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Building Great K-12 Schools in Economically Challenging Times
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Textbook Cases
Five very different schools offer lessons in building with students and the environment in mind.
By Joann Gonchar, AIA

Since you've already perused some of the pages of schools of the 21st century, you already know that sustainable design is an undeniable trend in K-12 facilities. You've already read how districts around the country are going green, in an effort lower energy and operational costs, improve teacher satisfaction, and raise student achievement. But, you haven't yet had the opportunity for an in-depth look at completed schools that employ high-performance strategies.

So, on the pages that follow, we provide an examination of five very different recently opened schools. Three of the schools–the Rosa Parks School, in Portland, Oregon; Tarkington School of Excellence, in Chicago; and Fossil Ridge High School, in Fort Collins, Colorado–have already achieved, or are well on their way toward achieving, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. The LEED rating system has become a nationally accepted tool for evaluating the environmental performance of buildings since it was launched by the U.S. Green Building Council roughly a decade ago. But so far, only about 70 schools nationwide have achieved certification.

Regardless of their LEED status, the case study schools included here all have environmental agendas. For example, all of the featured projects, to varying degrees, were driven by the goal of maximizing daylight for classroom illumination–a practice that should save energy and provide spaces conducive to learning. The plan of one of the schools, North Central Junior High School in North Liberty, Iowa, even mimics the path of the sun.

And, each of the schools, in its own way, establishes a strong connection between building and context. For the designers of the North Hills Campus of the Winchester Thurston School, tying the school to its former horse farm site near Pittsburgh, meant a domestically scaled architecture with generous windows providing students with views of the still almost rural setting.

While talking to the educators who occupy these facilities every day, we also discovered that many of the buildings' high-tech and high-performance features also serve to instill in students an awareness of their surroundings. Photovoltaic panels, light shelves, green roofs, and bioswales can help students better understand the built environment while instilling in them a sense of stewardship for the natural one.

Case Studies

Rosa Parks School
New Columbia Community Campus Corporation
Portland, Oregon

 

Tarkington School of Excellence
Chicago Public Schools
Chicago, Illinois

 

North Central Junior High
Iowa City Community School District
North Liberty, Iowa

 

Winchester Thurston School
Independent
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

 

Fossil Ridge High School
Poudre School Disrict
Fort Collins, Colorado