Owner: Poudre School District
Architect: RB+B Architects - George A. Brelig, AIA, design principal; Corky Bradley, AIA, project architect; Matt Arabasz, AIA, job captain
Consultants: JVA Engineering (structural); CEI (electrical); MKK Engineering (mechanical); BHA Design (landscape); Nolte & Associates (civil); ATS&R (programming); ACODA/SM&W (theater & acoustical); EMC Engineers (energy modeling); ENSAR Group (daylighting); AEC (commissioning); Haselden Construction (general contractor)

MASONRY: Claylite; Interstate Brick
SKYLIGHTS: Solatube International
AUDITORIUM SEATING: Irwin Seating Company
LIGHTING CONTROLS: Watt Stopper/Legrand
PLUMBING FIXTURES: Kohler; Elkay; Chicago Faucets

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.

Click here for more information.

CASE STUDY: Fossil Ridge High School, Poudre School Disrict

Building as Teaching Tool
Intimate and flexible learning environments within a larger footprint encourage creativity and collaboration, among both teachers and students
By B.J. Novitski

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The Poudre School District in Fort Collins, Colorado, gave a tough assignment to RB+B Architects: build a 1,800-student high school, taking advantage of an economy of scale, but at the same time design a facility that would allow faculty to provide students with the personalized education more common in smaller schools. District administrators also asked designers to integrate energy efficiency measures in order to significantly reduce utility bills, but without adding to the initial construction cost. Now, three years after the completion of construction, the grades are in and, by all accounts, the architects get an A for Fossil Ridge High School.

The 300,000-square-foot high school is broken down into a variety of interconnected volumes that are expressed on its exterior.

RB+B and a committee of educators developed the idea of one 300,000-square-foot, $38.5 million building containing three separate "learning communities." Each of three wings in the north half of the school operates as a semi-autonomous institution for 600 students, with its own core curriculum, student work areas, and administration. Specialty courses, such as music, are taught outside the smaller communities. South of the three wings are a large, daylight-filled media center; physical education facilities; and spaces for the visual and performing arts.

Social studies teacher Tara Rigby is delighted with how the unusual configuration is working. She reports a strong sense of community among the students. Teachers also benefit, she points out. Instead of being "pigeon-holed in a social studies wing," Rigby works as part of an interdisciplinary team that encourages creativity in teaching. In one example of collaboration, history and literature classes examine the same period in history at the same time.

The photovoltaic panels (top) form a canopy over the main entry and announce the school's environmental agenda. Horizontal shading devices over classroom windows (above) balance the need for views and daylight, and protect against heat gain.Photos: © David Patterson

Rigby is also the faculty sponsor of the school's environmental club. These students are passionate activists, she says, and their focus is their immediate surroundings. Fossil Ridge High School was one of the first schools to receive a Silver rating from the U.S. Green Buildings Council. This Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) designation has become a coveted certification for sustainability.

To qualify, the building must be energy efficient, conserve water, have good indoor air quality, and contain recycled materials. Club members are experts in the building's green features, and they give technical tours to visitors and their fellow students. On a typical tour, the students might explain the daylighting strategy, the east- and west-facing windows canted to the north to reduce solar heat gain, the heat-recovery wheels, or the ice storage system that cools the building while shifting 40 percent of electrical demand to off-peak hours. They might point out the photovoltaic panels at the front entrance, or the xeriscaping that helps to conserve water. During much of the daytime, electric lights are unnecessary, and students and teachers are learning to avoid turning them on as a matter of habit. Rigby reports the club members are thrilled to have this opportunity for direct environmental involvement.

Some of these young enthusiasts may pursue architectural careers. If they do, they'll learn that sustainable design is more complex than a list of features. How components and systems work together with the shape and siting of the building is key. Indeed, it's generally understood that a commitment to LEED must precede any design work. But the owner did not formally adopt LEED guidelines until the architects were well into design development, according to Quinton "Corky" Bradley, RB+B project architect.

Site Plan
1) High school 2) Student parking 3) Faculty parking 4) Future expansion 5) Planned public park

The relatively late decision to pursue LEED certification was not a drawback, however, because the district and the design team had already decided that the building's environmental performance would be a top priority. "We never shifted gears. We had always had our eyes on building the best building we could," Bradley recalls. "First get the exterior envelope right, then specify the best equipment and controls, and never forget it's all about delivering quality education," he advises.

Another Fort Collins high school of the same size, five years older, serves as an energy-consumption benchmark. In a recent five-month winter period, the cost of Fossil Ridge's natural gas and electricity was less than 60 percent that of the older school's. Despite this success, there's room for improvement. Both Rigby and Bradley comment that if they could do it over again, they would simplify the complex lighting system. The daylighting is beautiful, but some teachers have complained that they need more local control to darken rooms for presentations. Otherwise, Rigby wouldn't change a thing. Even the environmental club members who don't become architects, she predicts, will become influential: "The things they learn here will be beneficial when they enter the workforce," she says. "They will provide another voice advocating the importance of green design to their employers and people around them, now that they have seen first-hand what can be accomplished."



Section A-A - click to enlarge.
1) Commons 2) Gymnasium 3) Cafeteria 4) Library
Daylighting is an important aspect of the design of Fossil Ridge, both for its classrooms and its shared spaces, such as the media center (above left) and the commons area (above right).
Photos: © David Patterson