BRW School Architecture


Sustainability is all the rage these days, particularly when it comes to government buildings. And with good reason. Governmental entities–from cities and states to fire departments and school districts–want to be leaders in sustainable design because it can substantially improve a community’s environmental health and, even more importantly, save energy and maintenance costs over time.

The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification provides building owners with a certification process that scores them on overall sustainability issues, such as energy usage, thermal design, sustainably sourced materials, and other environmentally conscious design elements. For most building projects, LEED is the standard by which sustainability is measured and scored.

For schools, however, CHPS, or Collaborative for High Performance Schools, is an alternative certification process that scores school buildings on energy performance and a wide array of “healthy building” criteria, similar to LEED but tailored to a school facility. The CHPS goal is to build schools that are “energy, water and material efficient, well-lit, thermally comfortable, acoustically sound, safe, healthy and easy to operate.”

The CHPS standards go beyond conservation. They are about using sustainable features in ways that also enhance the learning environment, as well as creating a better school facility from a performance standpoint.

Brown Reynolds Watford Architects recently completed a CHPS-certified school in Fort Worth. John T. White elementary school includes several features that help conserve precious natural resources while also enhancing the learning environment. Some of the more notable features include:

  • Geothermal heating and cooling: John T. White’s heating and cooling system harvests the temperature of the ground far below the earth’s surface to heat the building in the winter and cool it in the summer. This system helps reduce energy use by almost 30 percent, as compared to a typical school.
  • Better lighting: The classrooms maximize natural daylight and provide multiple lighting controls for the teacher, thereby allowing the classroom to be fully lit when needed and dark enough to accommodate video presentations when needed. The classrooms also feature dedicated lighting for whiteboards to enhance the learning environment.

  • Combatting the “heat island” effect: The light-colored paving and roofing materials minimize the sizzle caused by asphalt parking lots and dark-colored roofs.
  • Reduced water usage: Low-flow toilets and faucets and a water-efficient irrigation system reduce indoor water consumption by 30 percent and outdoor water consumption by 50 percent.
  • Native plant landscaping: The 13-acre site features trees, shrubs, and grasses native to North Central Texas. Plants from this region tend to be hardy and well-suited to our normal rainfall patterns and require little extra irrigation, even during the area’s long dry season.

The John T. White building also used recycled steel and concrete throughout the building; offers preferred parking for car pooling and fuel-efficient vehicles; features improved acoustics by using extra sound-absorbing ceilings; and includes operable windows linked to a geothermal heat pump, so that once the windows in a particular classroom are open, the heating/cooling system in that classroom only is automatically turned off.

And the work didn’t end when the construction was completed. The building’s staff was trained to understand and operate the building’s features properly, to ensure healthy, low-maintenance, resource-conserving building usage for years to come.

At BRW, we are committed to sustainable design for all projects. But we have a special place in our hearts for schools, which educate and nurture the leaders who will be the stewards of our planet when we’re gone. Our goal is to build an invigorating, cost-effective learning environment that also conserves our precious natural resources. As our work at John T. White shows, it’s possible to do both–and do them beautifully.

POSTED BY: Lisa Lamkin, AIA and Jeffrey Choyce, AIA

One response

  1. Hi, this is a comment.
    To delete a comment, just log in, and view the posts’ comments, there you will have the option to edit or delete them.

    August 29, 2011 at 9:37 pm

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