Building Great K-12 Schools in Economically Challenging Times
In these tough times making good school design decisions has never been more difficult or more important. To find out how some of the nation’s top architects and administrators are coping with these challenges attend Architectural Record’s Schools of the 21st Century Symposium. It will be held Friday, April 9th, at the Hyatt McCormick Place in Chicago, the day before the NSBA Conference. The event is free of charge and is being presented with the support of McGraw-Hill Education and the American Architectural Foundation.

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Little Green Schoolhouses
The massive schools construction program currently underway provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create buildings that will influence the lives of students for decades to come
By Deane Evans, FAIA

High-performance schools—those that integrate the best in today’s design strategies and building technologies—and can also referred to as “green” or “sustainable”—can help us make the most of the opportunity presented by today’s massive school construction programs. What is a high-performance school? While there are many variations, in general high-performance schools are healthy, productive, and comfortable environments for students and teachers, that provide high levels of acoustic, thermal and visual comfort. Their windows and skylights admit generous amounts of daylight, and the buildings are safe and secure. There are other advantages. They are cost-effective to own and operate because they use durable products and systems. Their systems and materials are chosen using life-cycle cost analysis, rather than the cheapest first-cost. During design, energy analysis tools are used to optimize the building’s performance, and after construction its equipment is “commissioned”—fine-tuned so it operates correctly. High-performance schools are available for use by non-students during hours when the school is not in operation, and community participation during design is encouraged.

Newark Science Park High School, recently opened by the architecture firm Einhorn Yaffee Prescott, in Newark, New Jersey, allows students to observe its sustainable features firsthand. These include photovoltaic panels, geothermal and energy- recovery systems. Photo ©Brad Dickson/Chun Lai Photograph.

These buildings also use highly-efficient heating, cooling, and lighting systems fueled by renewable sources where possible. Their site planning is environmentally responsive, controlling such things as glare from parking lot lights and stormwater runoff, and their plumbing systems make efficient use of water.

While creating a school that achieves all these performance objectives may sound challenging, it is actually very straightforward. It does, however, require an integrated, whole-building approach during the design process—an approach that establishes high performance as a top priority from the very beginning. Key systems and technologies—the “building blocks” of a high-performance school—must be considered holistically, and their selection is optimized based on their combined impact on the comfort and productivity of students and teachers. The result will be an entire facility that is optimized to achieve long-term value and and operational efficiency.

Harley Ellis Devereaux, an architecture and engineering firm, and Greenworks Studio, a sustainable design consultant, recently completed Charles H. Kim Elementary, a CHPS school in Los Angeles.

Light shelves bounce light through short windows onto classroom ceilings, and shade the glass below (left).

Photography © RMA Photography


It is worth noting that high performance does not mean “high-tech.” Optimizing a school’s performance does require creative thinking and diligent management, but highly-complex systems or cutting-edge technologies are emphatically not required to create a high-performance facility.

How can I get one?
The key to creating a high-performance school is to start out by making high performance a top priority for the project. There are many guidelines available for helping designers and educators achieve these objectives (a box on page 26 contains web links to these organizations as well, as others which are referred to in this article.) Of course, the design and construction process must be managed effectively. Luckily, there are two solid process management strategies available as well. A school development team can use a rating system to help guide the design process, or it can use an interactive-management approach based on a series of questions asked at each stage of the design process, to keep the team constantly focused on the building blocks of a high-performance school. At the time this article was written, the best-known means for evaluating the performance of green buildings in general is the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Rating System. Its new LEED for Schools Rating System will be released in the spring of 2007. The “CHPS Criteria,” produced by the Collaborative for High Performance Schools, also has an excellent assessment method. The best-known question-based system is contained in the “High Performance School Buildings Resource and Strategy Guide” published by the Sustainable Buildings Industry Council (SBIC). Whichever approach is used, the key is to set high performance as a critical goal early in the process, make sure that the design team has buy-in from key decisionmakers along the way, and that everyone stays committed.

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