Designing MEP Systems for a Non-Traditional School

12 November 2018

The Pilot School, located in Wilmington, Delaware, opened its doors to their new facility in November of 2016 and is still receiving well-deserved praise for its exceptional design. The School originated in 1957 as an educational experiment consisting of a class of five young boys, and two teachers meeting at the Christ Church Sunday School in Greenville, DE. The teachers created an innovative education program, which would be soon known as the successful “pilot” plan. Due to the great success of the “pilot” program, the Pilot School was established. Sixty years later and the school still incorporates innovation into their teaching practices. The new building supports the school’s unique curriculum and teaching model.


The Pilot School sits on 50 acres of land that borders the First Historic National Park. The natural beauty surrounding the school’s campus plays an important role in the design of the school.  Intertwining environmental aspects into everyday learning is an effective way to reach students who may struggle in traditional school settings. The main entrance of the school is an atrium flooded with natural light and views of the surrounding nature. Instead of having a typical seating arrangement made up of benches and chairs, the atrium features large boulders placed in a semi-circle around a cozy fireplace. The school also features indoor and outdoor stone amphitheaters, a vegetative roof, an interactive tree-top science lab, and outdoor terraces designed to be social areas. Being surrounded by nature has a natural calming effect. Students who enter the Pilot School are often stressed from struggling with traditional classroom settings that aren’t geared towards supporting students with learning development difficulties. By incorporating nature into the curriculum, the Pilot School hopes to provide its students a comforting environment that also promotes productivity.


To integrate the outdoor environment indoors, the school features many floor-to-ceiling windows revealing scenic views of the surrounding landscape. Henry Adams’ MEP engineering team made sure to design lighting systems coordinated with the natural light of the space. Classroom lighting illumination levels properly meet the educational requirements of the school. The lighting design follows sustainable lighting design practices that are industry standard for providing general ambient lighting on work surfaces, up-lighting illumination to prevent a “cave feeling”, and specific task lighting on work surfaces to raise illumination levels. These lighting design practices incite a warm inviting space while focusing the energy used at specific locations to meet detailed object and task-oriented lighting.


When students are comfortable with their surroundings, they are more confident, and ready to learn. The Pilot School steers away from the more utilitarian setting of most public schools and focuses on harboring a tranquil environment fit for learning. Classrooms are installed with sound dampening carpet, and the whole school is double dry-walled to maintain a quiet and calm setting. MEP systems are acoustically treated to eliminate radiated noise and allow for a more peaceful atmosphere. Air handling units, cooling tower, and heat pump units are all strategically placed on the roof to reduce acoustical impact on the facility.


Building the confidence of students is one of the main goals of the Pilot School. The indoor saltwater swimming pool is not only a luxury feature of the school, but is used as a resource to help students build self-esteem. The pool’s beach-style entrance allows nervous students to dip their toes in and approach new activities at their own pace. Once they have built up their confidence, those students will have the opportunity to participate in other activities offered like canoeing, and snorkeling. To support the aquatic facility, Henry Adams’ MEP engineers had to address issues of condensation, humidity control, and indoor air quality. They provided mechanical solutions including a deck drain system, pool heaters, make up water system, backwash and pool draining piping system, and chemical controller system. 

The Pilot School provides a synergetic environment that supports the imagination of students, as well as a unique curriculum objectives. Henry Adams designed MEP systems ensuring the health, comfort and productivity of students and teachers.