BRW School Architecture



The process of deciding whether building owners will benefit from choices that increase costs up-front but provide cost savings down the road

Do we invest now in more durable flooring that takes little maintenance, or do we go for a less expensive flooring material that requires more frequent, labor-intensive maintenance?  Do we pay more for a roofing material that deflects heat or do we buy a less expensive roof that results in higher air conditioning bills?

In an ideal world, we would always opt for the more durable, lower maintenance materials.  After all, building maintenance budgets for school facilities have been just as hard-hit as every other budget.  Construction budgets, however, haven’t been immune to cuts either, so school administrators must weigh carefully the costs and benefits of various building materials and systems before deciding which option to take.

At BRW, we are firm believers that building a durable, low-maintenance, energy-smart school facility is one of the wisest investments a school district can make.  In our experience, the up-front costs are made up many times over in lower heating and cooling bills, less manpower (i.e. custodial salaries), lower water bills, and overall lower maintenance costs.  One of the key elements in long term facility costs is the cost of the energy it consumes.

When designing any building for maximum energy efficiency, the four main components are 1) the building envelope, 2) interior finishes, 3) building mechanical systems, and 4) water-saving devices.

Depending on local climate, existing regulations, and local priorities, one of these may be more important than others.  But, in general, our goal is to build the most energy-efficient building we can while staying within our budget.  Designing an energy-efficient building is the architectural equivalent of flossing, eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise: it’s a little investment now that pays off immensely when middle age hits.

The building envelope: This includes the roofing material, insulation, flashing (the waterproofing system that diverts water that inevitably infiltrates the wall system), and exterior materials.  Each of these elements has a wide range of choices that offer both durability and lower maintenance.

Interior finishes: This includes flooring, wall finishes, and ceilings.  Because of the extreme wear and tear on school floors, this single decision can mean dramatic savings (or costs) down the road.  Newer choices, such as diamond-polished concrete, epoxy terrazzo, or porcelain ceramic tile, are a wonderful alternative to vinyl composition tile, which requires periodic stripping and waxing, or carpet which quickly shows wear.

Building mechanical systems: There are a variety of heating and cooling systems, such as geothermal systems, that offer long-term savings.  But there are efficient, easy-to-maintain, traditional rooftop or central plant systems that can be good choices when geothermal isn’t an option.  With lighting, the goal is to maximize daylight harvesting while also controlling cooling costs.

Water-saving devices: Given the increasing demand for water, combined with Mother Nature’s unpredictability with increased concern for potential use restrictions, installing water-benefits systems throughout the school offers almost instantly realized savings.  Low-flow or dual-flush toilets in the bathroom, as well as electronic sensor faucets, can bring dramatic savings.  Outside, xeriscaping with hearty, native plants and drip irrigation is undoubtedly the way to go.

Stay tuned for more in-depth discussions of each of these topics.  If you can’t wait, though, and you would like to talk with us now about designing a low-maintenance energy-smart school in your area, please contact us at

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


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