Academy Learning Commons: A Home for Our Sustainable Future

When Punahou’s new Academy Learning Commons opens in 2025, it will mark a significant step forward in Punahou’s overall sustainability efforts, leveraging cutting-edge design and technology to foster a passion for sustainability.

Sustainability lessons will literally spring to life in the Emerging Technology studios, which will be equipped with virtual and augmented reality tools so that students can learn through – and even design – immersive experiences, like visiting the coral reefs or the Australian Outback without ever leaving campus. These powerful tools not only facilitate curiosity and investigative work but also enable students to apply design thinking when brainstorming about pressing environmental problems.

“Our buildings are the environments in which students live, work and learn on campus. They can, and do, serve as a living laboratory,” says Wendi Kamiya, Cooke Learning Commons department chair. “The new Academy Learning Commons building is designed to both manifest our values of sustainability and offer a space that informs and fosters further curiosity, critical thinking and deep learning.”

In the building’s state-of-the-art food design lab, students will experiment with culinary chemistry and food sustainability using Punahou’s own campus gardens. Improved, on-site archives will connect our students with the important heritage of our campus and our Hawaiian culture. “Hands-on learning experiences like these will help us create leaders who can make the world a better place in the future,” Kamiya explains.

At the time of its projected opening in 2025, the building is expected to meet or exceed LEED platinum specifications, joining Punahou’s long list of sustainable design milestones, such as Case Middle School’s LEED Gold designation, Omidyar K – 1 Neighborhood’s LEED Platinum status, and Kosasa Community’s success as the first net-zero building project on the campus.

The Academy Learning Commons will feature new covered lanai on all four sides of the building, offering dramatically increased shaded, covered seating for students (complete with lighting, outlets and charging stations) while also reducing sun exposure on the interior of the building, resulting in lowered air conditioning demands. New clerestory windows on all sides of the Learning Commons will provide a lighter, brighter space with decreased energy consumption.

While the Academy Learning Commons renovation will bring Punahou one step closer to achieving net-zero energy across campus, the existing building is no stranger to sustainable design. The original Cooke Library was one of the first buildings on campus to have photovoltaic panels mounted on its roof in 2008, as the original 1964 designed pitched roof easily lent itself to such panels. Today the 75 PV panels on Cooke continue to generate an estimated 135,000 kWh of energy. The new design brings technological efficiencies to bear in further reducing energy consumption.

For their part, Punahou students have been studying energy use in the Cooke Library for several years, through AP Environmental Studies class projects. Academy students were asked to observe their environment and look for opportunities for sustainability improvements, which essentially gave them a voice in the renovation project. “Students have spent time observing and collecting data on temperature, lighting, etc.,” Kamiya says. “They have proposed and implemented pilot sustainability studies with our lighting with a goal of being more aware about sustainability. This information has helped inform the design of the new building.”

Creating an energy efficient campus and educating students to work toward a comprehensively sustainable future are core Punahou values that the School encourages inside and outside the classroom. “Our students notice everything. They see how our priorities are physically represented in our campus buildings and grounds. Punahou students will be curious and aware of every detail of this project,” Kamiya says. “The visibility of sustainable building aspects will be a consistent and reinforcing message to all that Punahou School values the long-term sustainability of our resources.”

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