BRW School Architecture

Author Archive


I was recently honored to serve as Principal for a Day at Raul Quintanilla Sr. Middle SchoolPrincipal for a Day is a Dallas Independent School District project that brings community leaders into schools across the district.  It was truly inspirational to witness firsthand, the dedication and professionalism of the faculty and staff.  After morning announcements, I observed a student success team meeting.  All of a student’s teachers team with a counselor to ensure a focused and coordinated team approach to coaching the student through their academic challenges. It is a method that seems sure to lead the way to student success.  In visiting several classrooms, I saw passionate, talented teachers and engaged students.  I may have only been a principal for one day but in that I felt privileged to witness just a small part of the day to day for several teachers and administrators within the Dallas Independent School District.

An early morning start and warm welcome lead to a meeting with the community liaison, PTA and SBDM meeting with the Principal, Assistant Principal and Principal for a Day.

Teachers hard at work planning their team’s daily learning objectives for the next six weeks.

Sharing our experience with Superintendent Miles (from left to right: Lisa Lamkin,AIA, Superintendent Mike Miles, Principal Luis Valdez.





The past year has been a busy one for the North Texas Chapter of CEFPI.  Just 11 months ago we changed our name, more than doubled our chapter programs, planned a successful inaugural golf tournament and designed a new chapter sponsored grant program; our IMPACT Award.  CEFPI is an organization bringing professionals together who impact the school facility environment through design, planning and construction of school facilities. We now have an ability to further impact the school community we serve with an annual grant program selecting one of many worthy projects to sponsor with a cash award of $5000.  The award vision statement:

To enhance the usability of an educational space with a permanent
enhancement or modification and to impact the community; supporting its involvement in the local education process

I was honored this week to celebrate this vision becoming reality with our first Impact Award given to the Fort Worth ISD’s Polytechnic High School – Family and Consumer Sciences “Poly’s Community Garden”.

The submittal for Poly’s community garden presented a persuasive argument for how their project met our award criteria:

  • How will this investment impact the students at the school receiving the award?
  • How will this investment impact, encourage and promote future community involvement in the school?
  • Long term, how significant is the anticipated result from this investment?

Representing Fort Worth ISD in accepting the award were:

  • Art Cavazos
    Chief of District Operations
  • Tobi Jackson
    Board Member – District 2
  • Daniel Scroggins
    Polytechnic High School Principal

There is a clear and strong vision to have this become a ‘community garden’ as well as a school project which is incredibly powerful. The development of the project is planned to be executed by students and the surrounding community over the next school year.  I look forward to seeing the impact Poly’s Community Garden makes in the Polytechnic High School Community as the chapter visits next year to see the results!

President, North Texas Chapter, CEFPI


BRW Architects embraces a structured process for planning, design and documentation that supports a collaborative atmosphere and leads to well-integrated documents aligned with the project scope and budget.

Our 6-step process leads to a completed campus designed for long-term value that enhances the community and stays within budget.

Step 1 – Visioning and Programming

A vital first step for all project stakeholders is reaching consensus on 3 to 5 prioritized key goals for the project.  For example, an important factor to be confirmed early is whether the building will be LEED certified or a TX CHPS-designed school incorporating “green” building features.

This crucial first step is often overlooked when a project starts, as it often does, with “Ed Specs” (Educational Specifications) and Technical Design Guidelines already adopted by the district.  Even with such established guidelines, every project has some unique aspects that should be fully considered early in the process.

Stakeholders must understand that when project priorities shift during design, these revised goals often conflict with fundamental early design decisions and have a significant impact on the budget. This is especially true with building renovation and additions, as it is always difficult to know where to stop with renovation.

To properly evaluate existing buildings, an Existing Condition Assessment should separate the project scope into three categories: 1) deferred maintenance, physical condition, and code improvements, 2) operational improvements, and 3) aesthetic improvements.

Next we prioritize these scope categories and align them with the budget accordingly.  The overall goal should be to find the best value.  For example, a priority might be exterior design, where aesthetic improvements for the benefit of the community may be a required priority.  The final step in defining project scope is going through a detailed review of the program ‘Ed Specs,’  translating operational needs into the appropriate building spaces and site requirements.

Step 2 – Scope to Budget

While confirming the Scope to Budget the project budget and project requirements must be analyzed to assure the scope and budget are aligned from the start. Two important budget items – not discussed often enough – are contingencies and cost escalation.  Most owners agree that a small contingency fund built into the construction contract helps accommodate small unforeseen conditions.  But another contingency fund should also be held outside the construction contract to cover larger unforeseen issues, if any, as well as to fund added scope desired during construction.

The best time to establish the most appropriate construction contracting method is before the project design phase.  But whether the contract is a lump sum or cost plus a negotiated fee contract attained through a Competitive Sealed Proposal, Construction Manager at Risk, or Design Build method, it is important to identify the responsibility for cost estimating and a process to re-align project scope as necessary.  This is especially true when the contractor is under contract during building design phases, such as when the CMAR approach is used, when all team players should participate in the scope-to-budget alignment process.

During the scope-to-budget phase, BRW uses our in-house Historic  Construction Costs database to prepare the first cost estimate.  This is the time to consider site development and foundation design costs.  If the geotechnical report is complete, the estimate can be more accurately tailored to the foundation design recommended for the specific site.

Among site development issues to consider is cost created by distance to utilities such as water, sewer, electrical power, and natural gas.  Another substantial cost factor depends entirely on the project’s location: in hurricane-prone areas or where tornado-resistant rooms are desired, structural design to resist these wind loads will add cost.

Step 3 – Concept Design:  SF Cost Estimate

During concept design, the site plan, floor plan and building massing options are reviewed and consensus for a preferred scheme is established.  More detailed cost-related discussions of this stage in design may include: landscaping ordinance requirements; building code requirements, exterior image and building material, and roofing assemblies.

This is also a good time to discuss the benefit of creating bid alternates to allow flexibility on bid day.  The goal is to achieve an awardable base bid, with the flexibility to fully utilize the available budget by selecting separately bid alternates.  The best type of scope for bid alternates is when they involve one or just a few trades, such as an alternative roofing system. As the concept design forms, the next cost estimate will still be based on square foot cost, but it will now be anchored on a concept floor plan and preliminary site layout.  This is a critical time to make any major realignment of the project scope and budget, if necessary, before Schematic Design begins.

Step 4 – Schematic Design:  First Quantity Take-off Cost Estimate

The Schematic Design (SD) phase usually builds on the concept design with more engineering decisions, including civil grading and site utilities, structural foundations and framing, and mechanical/electrical systems.  At this time many building products and materials assemblies are considered for life span, performance, energy and water efficiency, appearance, code compliance, and cost.  The cost estimate created during SD will typically be the first quantity take-off estimate, where all major components are measured in linear feet, square feet, or cubic yards and multiplied by a unit cost.  Once again, the cost estimate is reviewed and the project scope is evaluated against the construction budget.

Step 5 – Design Development:  Cost Estimate with Engineering Systems

The Design Development (DD) phase typically involves final selection and approval of all materials and building systems.  The DD cost estimate is a refinement of the SD estimate, with more detail.  It is the final validation of the project scope before construction documents (CDs) begin.

Step 6 – Construction Document:  Final Cost Estimate

The challenge with preparing CDs, as related to construction cost, is to not allow “scope creep” into the construction documents.  At this stage, owners and designers will inevitably think of small project enhancements, which may be incorporated, as long as the overall construction cost is carefully monitored.  A 95% cost estimate is the final check before bidding or pricing and this is the time to finalize bid alternates.

With the structured collaborative process outlined here the project will be one that the community takes pride in and the district can proudly say stayed within the budget.

POSTED BY: Lisa Lamkin, AIA


Recently, I spoke at the Knowledge is Power Conference held in Dallas, TX.  This event is designed to support and stimulate the growth of minority and women-owned businesses located in the Dallas/Fort Worth Area.  The event’s sponsors included Dallas ISD, Dallas County Community Colleges (DCCCD), and City of Dallas.  I sat on the Knowledge is Power Roundtable with other local Business Owners and CEOs.  When asked “How do small companies survive in a tough economy,” I had the opportunity to share my 10 Small Business Survival Techniques:

There are ten simple steps to survive.

  1. Focus your plan.  Who is buying now and what do they need now?  How can I reach them?
  2. Sharpen your sword!  How can I deliver better or faster?  Changing what needs to be changed.
  3. Tailor your message.  Use website or ezine.  Focus on the current potential before the long term
  4. Dress the part.  Have a cohesive message.  Be consistent with your story: graphics, attire, website, storefront.
  5. Land on your purpose.  Focus on what you WANT not what you DON’T WANT.
  6. Ask a Mentor.  Honest assessment has incredible value.
  7. Be a duck.  Calm on the surface, but furiously paddling.  Don’t panic in public.
  8. Don’t make your world too small.  For example: You are not a tutor.  You are an Educational Consultant.
  9. Be a little crazy.  The sane people work for someone else.
  10. Be TOUGH.

             T – Tailor your message.

             O – Out think the competition- make your story compelling.

             U – Understand your customer.

             G – Get in front of the right audience.

             H – Have what the buyer needs. Have Fun!! Or Fake it!

Click here to download the panel handout from the conference.



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