Situated on 82 acres of government-donated  land in Lexington, Ky., Locust Trace, a school-sponsored agriculture science farm, is an effort to redefine the educational environment.

The school features spacious classrooms with adjoining laboratories, 6.5 acres for gardening, a greenhouse with an area for raising fish, a soaring auditorium that allows teachers to bring livestock and machinery indoors, an expansive horse barn and arena, and an on-site veterinary clinic.

Students at the technical high school can specialize in agriculture, veterinary science, animal science and agriculture power mechanics.

The design and operation of the entire campus emphasizes conservation and sustainability, pursuing net-zero energy usage. Net-zero means the school uses no more energy than it produces. The school is only minimally connected to water, sewer and electrical systems. It relies on photovoltaic solar panels, constructed wetlands and passive solar and geothermal technology. 

Teaching efficiency

“It was important to teach the students how to sit lightly on that piece of land, not overbuild it and really make it sustainable,” said Susan Hill, one of the architects from Lexington-based Tate Hill Jacobs Architects Inc. involved in the school’s design.

Campus buildings are oriented to maximize solar energy and natural daylight. Photovoltaic panels are installed on the roof of structures throughout the facility to convert sunlight into electricity. Since the majority of year-round sunlight in Kentucky comes from the south, strategically placed large windows allow natural light to supplement the use of florescent lighting throughout the building. Additionally, products from Solatube International on the roof pull daylight in to the center of the building more effectively than traditional skylights. Finally, daylight sensors automatically adjust the florescent lighting to save energy when natural light supplies adequate illumination.

Roof water runoff from all three classroom buildings is collected into storage tanks used for livestock watering and irrigation. An entry canopy serves as a vegetated roof, slowing the movement of rainwater by soaking into the roots of the native plants. These plants are regionally appropriate species that are drought-tolerant and thrive throughout the seasons. Wastewater is processed on site via constructed wetlands, requiring no connection to the municipal sanitary sewer system.

Fanning out to save energy

Locust Trace uses many different strategies to ensure the building’s heating and cooling is energy-efficient and suitable for occupant comfort. Solar and geothermal HVAC systems work with 21 high-volume, low-speed fans from the Big Ass Fan Co. to keep students, teachers and livestock comfortable throughout the year. In warmer months, the fans improve personal comfort with elevated air speeds. Although fans do not actually lower temperatures, the air movement can make a person feel about 10°F cooler.

 “We have spaces in the building that have no air conditioning,” Hill said. “These very large fans move large volumes of air, which creates comfort for the people in that space.”

To ensure comfort in the colder winter months, the fans serve a different purpose: Operating at 10 percent to 30 percent of maximum speeds, they redirect warm air from the ceiling to where thermostats are located.

“From an HVAC standpoint, it took a lot of different design iterations to figure out what was the best fit,” said Stephanie Febles with CMTA Consulting Engineers, which helped design the school’s heating and cooling system. “With the fans we can push large volumes of air across radiant convectors’ fin tubes to get a heating effect.”

But the fans serve a higher purpose than just heating and cooling building occupants.  Locust Trace community liaison Sara Tracy said they are part of the students’ learning experience.

 “The fans are really a critical part, not only in the comfort of everyone in the facility, but also in education and green design,” she said. “We are thankful and happy that they are a part of our school.”


As part of an outreach effort to the surrounding area, officials at the school regularly open it for tours.

 “Our facility is unique,” said Principal Joe Norman. “It incorporates green technologies to educate our students. Not only are we educating the students that are physically in this building, but the other 30,000 students throughout the county who come visit us and learn about the technology and sustainable practices we use.”

Beyond reaching students, Locust Trace’s atypical approach to green building and sustainability functions as a model for uses other than schools.

“The school not only serves as a model for the school district, but the broader community at large,” Hill said. “The 21st century has many challenges around natural resources, and to have our local students learning about what it means to be responsible in the way they use natural resources and in thinking big-picture about sustainability is a step we must take.”

This article and its images were supplied by Big Ass Fan Co. For reprints of this article, contact Renee Schuett at (248) 786-1661 or email