Owner: Iowa City Community School District
Architect: Neumann Monson Architects-Kevin Monson, AIA, principal-in-charge; Chris DeGroot, AIA, project architect; Tim Schroeder, AIA, design architect; Emily Kellenberger, interior designer
Consultants: Farris Engineering (mechanical/electrical); M2B (structural); MMS Consultants (civil/landscape); The Weidt Group (daylighting); Conlon Construction (general contractor)

MASONRY: Glen-Gery Brick; Ochs Brick Co.
ALUMINUM WINDOWS: Moduline Window Systems
PAINTS AND STAINS: Pittsburgh Paints
CARPET: J&J Commercial

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: North Central Junior High, Iowa City Community School District

Letting the Sun Shine In
Neumann Monson Architects builds on its experience with daylighting and on a long-standing relationship with a client
By David Sokol

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The Iowa City Community School District has a star pupil in Neumann Monson Architects. The local firm not only earned commissions to design a trio of schools funded by a $39 million bond issue approved in 2003, but it also initiated an effort to make the facilities exemplars of performance and sustainability. The most recently completed building, the 600-student North Central Junior High, best realizes that independent study.

North Central's exterior walls incorporate so-called "B-grade" bricks found at local brickyards. The designers used the various hues of the salvaged bricks to create striated facades symbolic of the region's bedrock layers.
Photo: © Farshid Assassi

Section A-A - click to enlarge.
1) Commons 2) Gymnasium 3) Cafeteria 4) Library

Because of a conviction that sustainable design "improves people's performance through healthier environments," the design team took a particular interest in deploying the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) high-performance guidelines, according to Kevin Monson, AIA, Neumann Monson president. And when the architects presented the district and its facility advisory council with DOE statistics, as well as the results of a 1999 study by energy consultant Heschong Mahone Group linking classroom daylight levels with test scores, the clients quickly embraced the designers' sustainable agenda. As a result, Neumann Monson's Elizabeth Tate High School and Van Allen Elementary School, both opened in 2005, feature generous north-facing light monitors; Van Allen, which shares a 60-acre site with North Central, was also the first school in the state to earn certification, under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system. The program, administered by the U.S. Green Building Council, provides standards for evaluating performance in areas such as energy and water use, indoor air quality, and recycled content in building materials.

First Floor - click to enlarge.
1) Commons 2) Administration 3) Gymnasium 4) Locker rooms 5) Wrestling room/weight room 6) Food service 7) Vocational 8) Technology 9) Music 10) Classroom 11) Art 12) Cafeteria 13) Future addition

North Central Junior High, which opened for the 2006–2007 school year, refines the principles Neumann Monson had realized in the Tate and Van Allen projects. The 41/2-foot-tall light monitors that run the length of each classroom, for example, are placed in closer proximity to classroom walls than at Van Allen. By doing so, the architects were able to reduce structural reinforcement without sacrificing light penetration.

The 82,000-square-foot building's southern elevation also bolsters Neumann Monson's embrace of the sun. While aluminum canopies shade the windows, these elements also extend into the interior as light shelves, reflecting light streaming from the upper portion of the windows into rooms. Moreover, the building plan here extends in a broad arc. "Programmatically, it allowed us to have different-sized classrooms in a tight envelope," Monson says, "and it is representative of the [path of the] sun."

The building's reliance on daylighting reduced the heat gain associated with electric lighting, allowing designers to specify a smaller and less costly mechanical system. The strategy helped keep the construction budget at an economical $104 per square foot, and should also provide low operational costs, Monson says.

Shading devices and light shelves on south-facing windows bounce daylight deep into the interior.
Photo: © Farshid Assassi

Classrooms rely chiefly on daylight for illumination.
Photo: © Farshid Assassi

North Central reveals its sustainability mission at every turn. The building's signature is its southern elevation, featuring striations of bricks acquired from local production facilities' overruns; students similarly enjoy views of bioswales and natural wetlands as they move through the school everyday. Less apparent but equally important measures include 88 geo-thermal wells and, another Iowa first, pervious-concrete parking lots to reduce toxic stormwater runoff. Only a student sleuth as inquisitive as Neumann Monson will find them all.

David Sokol is a New York–based design writer and frequent contributer to Architectural Record.