Odyssey Elementary


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The courtyard features outdoor space for play.
Credit: VCBO
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Hallway spaces are daylighted and can become defacto meeting places of their own.
Credit: VCBO
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A typical classroom space; LED lighting is in daylight harvesting mode, thermal displacement grills in the room corners keep the students healthy and comfortable without disruptive HVAC noise.
Credit: VCBO
Wing Entrance
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The entrance to each “habitat” or wing of the school, is named for a different type of motion that animals use. The signage at each portal showcase different animals that primarily use that type of movement.
Credit: VCBO
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In the commons and dining area, floors are sustainable easy-care ground concrete.
Credit: VCBO
PV array
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A 320 kilowatt array of 1,100 photovoltaic (PV) panels makes this school net zero energy.
Credit: VCBO

General Information

Quick Facts


Woods Cross, UT

Building Type

  • Education
  • Elementary or Middle School

Project Information

Occupant Type

Local government

Odyssey was designed around the theme “Bodies in Motion: The Animal Kingdom,” and highlights animals (including humans) as they run, jump, swim and fly. The school has flexible spaces that can be easily moved or adjusted to meet student and teacher needs and is designed to be zero energy, completely eliminating operational energy costs.

Location Details


2050 S 1955 W , Woods Cross, UT

Site context/setting



Owner Occupied


Ratings & Awards

U.S. Green Building Council LEED for Schools 2009

2014, Gold

Building Details



Total Gross Floor Area 84,758 ft²


Building unit or complex: Described project is a single building
Percent New 100%


Indoor Environment Quality

Indoor Environment

Indoor Environment Issues

One of the inspirations for the school's interior design came from a committee that met prior to the school's construction. This group focused on the childhood epidemic of obesity and envisioned a school that encouraged motion and exercise.

Jeanne Jackson, principal architect at VCBO, told GB&D that the interior design was driven by this vision. “In every classroom, we designed a scheme with round group tables and stools, so kids can move freely and can fidget,” Jackson says. “Research shows that you can do better work that way because there is more blood flowing. It allows students to get the most out of their education and teachers to use different platforms.”

The school's four wings also match the theme of movement with the names "run," "jump," "swim," and "fly."


Design Process

In order to achieve zero energy on a tight construction budget, the design team realized that they needed to drastically minimize the school's overall energy consumption through system design, then add the renewable energy system.

They began by emulating other low energy buildings, orienting the building properly to take advantage of passive solar heating and cooling as well as daylight harvesting. Then the design team made improvements in three main areas: building envelope (exterior), the electrical system, and the mechanical system.

Design Tools

Lessons Learned

Discuss goals that were met and goals that were not achieved, and the reasons for these outcomes

The array became operational in late September 2015, and all future electrical bills will be only the base fees charged by the power company. In the first month, the array generated 13% more energy than the conservative estimates used in design.


Project Costs

Property Acquisition Costs



Estimated payback time of any investment in measures needed to reach zero net energy

An average school in Utah costs roughly $1.00/SF/year to operate. Odyssey has exceeded all expectations due to the building and system design, and cost only $0.37/SF/year in the first year of operation. With the cost savings that Odyssey is realizing, and understanding that energy costs double every ten years, the payback for the efficient mechanical system and the photovoltaics should be around 12 years to 15 years.

Incremental costs related to building envelope, lighting, HVAC, and renewable energy technologies incurred to achieve net-zero energy

A typical 85,000sf elementary school has the following costs:
-mechanical cost/sf: $25.50
-electrical cost/sf: $18.10
-cost to operate: $1.00/sf/year
-total cost first year: $85,000/year

Odyssey elementary school has the following costs:
-mechanical cost/sf: $35.40
-electrical cost/sf: $21.80
-cost to operate: $0.37/sf/year
-total cost first year: $31,450/year

General Energy


Energy Use

The total annual CO2 emissions of the school is projected to be -75 metric tons after the photovoltaic offset, making Odyssey a carbon-negative building, responsible for taking more carbon out of the atmosphere than it expends on an annual basis.

Building Envelope Thermal Performance and Mechanical Systems

The envelope for Odyssey contains three inches of continuous insulation that both seal leaks in the exterior and dramatically increases the building's overall thermal performance.

For the electrical system, the design optimizes wiring efficiency, replaced fluorescent lights with LED lighting, and provided more control to the occupants, allowing for greater reductions in power usage.

The mechanical system design provided one of the greatest opportunities for energy and cost savings. The backbone of the heating system is a ground-source heat exchange loop with pipes buried under the play fields.

Indoors, each room has a thermal air displacement system that brings fresh air to both sides of the classroom through floor grills. Stale air then rises and is pumped away through ceiling vents.

Energy Systems

A 320-kilowatt array of 1,100 photovoltaic (PV) panels has been installed, which includes a photovoltaic array on the roof as well as solar panels that double as sunshades over the windows on the south side of the building.

The building has an interactive energy dashboard where children can learn about the school’s energy use. QR codes around the building feature videos explaining how the energy-saving features work.

Energy Balance

Energy Generation Source Locations

  • Generate renewable energy within its footprint (e.g. solar PV on the roof)?

Energy Datasets

Dataset NameYearTypePurchased Energy (kBtu/ft²)
20142014Actual & simulation hybrid0.43



Water Use / Conservation Description

When it comes to water conservation, Odyssey kept water use to a minimum by installing low-flow fixtures and native plants. The schools still wanted green grass for the children to play on, so the play lawns have sensors in the landscaping that keep track of soil dryness and only turn on the sprinklers when necessary.