Shady Side Academy LEED Certified Rowe Hall

Shady Side Academy

Shady Side Academy has been educating students (K-12) around the greater Pittsburgh region for over one hundred and twenty five years. Eighty five of these have been spent in Fox Chapel, PA on the Academy’s forty acre suburban campus. The Academy’s first building, Rowe Hall, was built in 1922; an iconic three story brick academic hall perched atop the campus entrance. In 2004, the time for renovation and modernization had come. Through a generous contribution ($900,000) from the Richard King Mellon Foundation and the foresight of the Academy, Rowe Hall’s future would be a green one.

Soon after committing to Rowe’s renovation, Shady Side Academy approached evolveEA to help the project reach its sustainable design goals. With the furniture just moved in and doors newly open, evolveEA embarked on what would become a landmark project for both the Academy and our firm. While the goal of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification was a major driving force for the project team, evolve’s relationship with Academy and resulting services provided tapped into the interdisciplinary nature of our practice.

LEED Management

With the help of evolve’s LEED management leadership Shady Side Academy achieved LEED Gold certification for a project whose initial goal was basic certification.


The design of Rowe Hall’s courtyard landscape complements the building and offers useful, comfortable, outdoor spaces for students and faculty to meet. The species planted require no irrigation and are native to the area, and a cistern, buried below the landscape, collects usable rainwater from the rooftop. The SSA Masterplan includes a formal entry sequence, outside classrooms and informal activity spaces that are integrated with infiltration and water storage strategies to minimize post-development site stormwater runoff. Plantings are focused on the fall-winter-spring experience of the landscape and include native and drought tolerant combinations that evolve with grace as the Academy enters its second century. The landscape systems are included in the education plan as part of the school’s informal science education efforts.

Social Engagement

Green advocacy, education, and curriculum development were natural convergent interests for both the Academy and evolve—the results of which became green features and educational signage throughout the Academies hall’s and an accompanying brochure for visitors and students to take home.

Rowe Hall has become a catalyst for change on campus and refocused Shady Side Academy’s efforts toward the creation of more sustainable environments. As the Director of the Physical Plant, Tom Thompson, says, “by going green in a school we are preparing young people to assume their role in the future,” in this manner the building continues to serve as a pedagogical tool and inspiration.

Completed 2006 SSA’s renovation of its main academic building called for sensitive insertion of outdoor spaces and improvements to the indoor environment. An existing entry was reorganized into an open air classroom to support learning activities. The space brings both function and delight–it is home to stormwater storage and infiltration and the plant selection focused on the fall-winter-spring experience. evolveEA lead the project through the LEED certification process and included state-of-the-art systems that met the architectural and financial goals of the project.

Notable Green Features

The historic and green renovation of the oldest building on campus amplifies the Academy’s commitment to sustainability and hopefully represents a trend across the campus.

The project’s sustainable features and resulting practices are notable across a number of green criteria; a rainwater cistern which captures stormwater used to flush toilets, and highly efficient plumbing fixtures reduces potable water consumption by over 20%, energy conservation strategies including, occupancy sensors in classrooms that shut off the lights and turn down the heat when room are empty, installation of efficient heat pumps, and an energy recovery system (desiccant wheel) generate an estimated 43% savings in annual energy usage, bike racks and open courtyards encourage local students to bike to school and enjoy outdoor common areas, the building’s old materials were largely salvaged, and over 75% of the deconstruction waste from the project was diverted from landfills; further many of the building’s historic features were maintained; large operable windows, brick façade and shingled roof, and original functionality, and occupant friendly (no VOC) finishes and housekeeping practices are used inside the building.

As a former president of the Academy remarked, “every dollar that I don’t have to give to Equitable Gas or to Duquesne Light is another dollar I have for education.” True, and only half the picture—scientific study has shown, greener schools and environments, result in better academic performance and happier students. On a project like Rowe Hall, a Green renovation is a winning strategy for everybody.

Evolve EA