Students and teachers at a blue-ribbon New Orleans high school are reporting a calmer, quieter learning environment following recent acoustical renovations that leveraged high-performance products and technical expertise from CertainTeed Ceilings. Part of ongoing sustainability updates at the school, VOC-compliant fiberglass ceiling panels and sound absorbent wall panels were recently installed to optimize Environmental Acoustics Design in two key classrooms, creating comfortable and engaging learning spaces.

Founded in 1957 as a school for gifted children, Benjamin Franklin High School is a public magnet school in New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1990, the school moved to its current location on the campus of the University of New Orleans, where it operates as a charter school. The 24-year-old building survived Hurricane Katrina, but is beginning to show its age.

“Prior to these updates, there were a lot of hard, reflective surfaces in these classrooms that made it difficult for students to understand their instructors,” said Robert Marshall, manager of marketing technical services for CertainTeed Ceilings. “Installing our products in these rooms will improve the overall classroom environment and also serve as a living laboratory where we can measure their impact in a real-life learning environment.”

CertainTeed Ceilings supplied approximately 700 sq. ft. of 2' x 4' VOC-compliant Symphony f fiberglass ceiling panels and grid to replace aging mineral fiber panels in a math classroom and 1,700 sq. ft. in a science classroom. The Symphony f panels offer a Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC) of 0.95—a 65 percent improvement over the existing mineral fiber panels. In addition to their acoustical performance, the panels are better suited to stand up to New Orleans' heat and fluctuating humidity. Additionally, CertainTeed’s Overtone finish gives them a bright appearance and a high light reflectance of 0.90, as well as exceptional durability and cleanability.

The product's fiberglass core consists of 28 percent post-consumer recycled content and has been third-party tested for VOC emissions, contributing to the school’s goals of sustainability and high indoor air quality. Furthermore, the panels are covered by an industry-first Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) and Health Product Declaration (HPD), offering third-party-verified information on both life cycle sustainability and the product's material makeup. These documents can contribute to important Materials and Resources credits under the newest version of LEED.

For additional sound absorption, the school installed 70 sq. ft. of Ecophon Texona Wall Panels in the color Ginger in the math classroom. The school elected to install additional Ecophon Texona Wall Panels in audio-visual classroom where sound reverberation was so poor one teacher could no longer hold classes there. The wall panels are a perfect solution for sound absorption in areas where a traditional suspended ceiling isn't attainable or desirable. Composed of a highly absorptive glass wool core, they are available in 16 different color options, perfectly blending design and acoustical performance.

Further improving the environmental performance of the classrooms, SAGE Glass is contributing dynamic electro-chromic windows that change tint based on the positioning of the sun. This will help reduce strain on heating and cooling systems by regulating indoor temperatures, and will have the added benefit of reducing glare on chalkboards and whiteboards.

On Display at Greenbuild

During the 2014 Greenbuild International Conference & Expo, which ran Oct. 22-24 in New Orleans, Benjamin Franklin High School was featured on a tour of local institutions showcasing sustainable building practices. The public magnet high school is a model of how schools can implement green measures, having won first place in the Louisiana USGBC’s Green Schools Challenge, which encourages schools to engage students and the community in finding ways to improve sustainability while gaining hands-on experience in environmental stewardship.

Allison Bowler, chief financial officer for Benjamin Franklin High School, said being part of a high-profile green renovation has been a wonderful learning experience for students.

“Gaining an understanding of why it’s important to consider what types of products go into a building has absolutely increased the students' awareness of what it means to be good citizens of the planet,” Bowler said. “They’re the next group of professionals that will be making those decisions in the next 10-15 years. Having the opportunity to learn it in high school is just an added value to the education they’re receiving.”

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