Sustainable Design for Schools

Three Case Studies

Planning for and studying about sustainable design does not necessarily translate into the design and implementation of a project that meets all of the anticipated requirements of sustainable design goals. The realities of time and budget restraints as well as the political support behind a project will more often than not result in compromises to the design process. School districts faced with shrinking levels of government funding and contentious operating environments may be hesitant to try new approaches to building. Knowing this, and despite the risk of breaking new ground, many districts have studied the prospective benefits offered by sustainable design and subsequently chosen to embark on projects that embrace that design philosophy and application.

This chapter includes descriptions of sustainable design projects from three school districts. The descriptions provide the reader with real-life examples of how sustainable design principles may be applied to new school buildings as well as observations about some of the challenges and rewards school districts may encounter in carrying out sustainable design projects. The three schools discussed in this chapter are the Sonoji Sakai Intermediate School in the Bainbridge Island School District (Washington), the Roy Lee Walker Elementary School in the McKinney Independent School District (Texas) and the Newport Coast Elementary School in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District (California).

Three primary means to gather information about the school projects were used in researching this chapter. Research was conducted on the Internet, managers for the projects were interviewed and, in the case of Sakai Intermediate School, a site visit was made. Interviews were conducted by phone, e-mail or in person.

It is important to note that the following descriptions are intended as overviews of the projects. In all cases, one to three participants in the projects were contacted. In the case of the California school project, information was gathered exclusively through discussions with the project manager from Southern California Edison, the utility responsible for coordinating energy efficient-designs with the school district. The overviews provide basic information that will help school districts understand the goals, implementation issues, and outcomes of the three projects.

Sonoji Sakai Intermediate School

Sonoji Sakai Intermediate School (Sakai), constructed over the course of 1998 and 1999, is a fifth/sixth grade school that was occupied in January 2000. It is located in the Bainbridge Island School District (BISD) in the state of Washington. Bainbridge Island is located in Puget Sound, a 35-minute ferry ride west of downtown Seattle. The Island is connected to the Kitsap Peninsula on its north end by a bridge that spans a quarter mile waterway, Agate Pass. Bainbridge is approximately seven miles long and covers an area close to 20 square miles. It has a year-round population of approximately 20,000 people.

Responding to a growing influx of families to the Island, BISD has built two new schools and remodeled portions of all the other District schools within the last five years. The Sakai Intermediate School is the latest school to be built in the district. With its completion, the District now includes three elementary schools, the intermediate school (Sakai), a middle school (grades seven and eight), a high school and a number of K-12 optional programs. Approximately 3,600 students are currently enrolled in the District’s schools.

The BISD experienced serious indoor air quality problems in one of its previously built schools, and stream and watershed damage at another school site. The School Board was therefore highly sensitized to the need for respecting environmental planning in setting its goals for the Sakai project. The School Board sensitivity was strengthened as well by the knowledge that the Sakai school site included a stream that was affected by the federal designation of Puget Sound chinook salmon as a threatened species. Based on its previous experience and the knowledge of existing conditions on the Sakai building site, the School Board set three environmental goals for the site and building design. Those goals were:

  1. to insure that ecosystems on the site were minimally impacted
  2. to insure high indoor air quality in the completed school
  3. to employ resource conservation where sustainably designed materials and practices were used and followed during construction and in the completed building

Planning for the new school began in April 1997. The approach to the project was fairly traditional in that it followed the normal progression of schematic drawings, design development, construction documents, bidding and contractor awards, construction and post-construction evaluation and follow-up. Unlike traditional projects, however, the level of coordination by Richard Best, the Capital Works Director, was much higher. Best was hired, in part, because of his previous work with environmentally sensitive projects. He was a champion for Sakai and managed the project to include collaborative meetings and dialogs with the various groups who would be responsible for designing and building the site as well as those who would be occupying and using the building.

In June 1997, one year before the planned ground breaking for the school, a program planning team was appointed. The Team included representatives from the teaching and administrative staff for the new school and the school administration. The Team met with the architects in their Seattle offices as well as with various representatives of the Bainbridge community, including school staff and residents of the community. The team also met with federal grant makers to explore possibilities for funding a "teaching project" for students to learn about the priority assigned to environmental goals for the building project. The Team was asked to consider future use of the building, taking into consideration the use by community as well as the possibility of Sakai being used as an elementary school five to ten years into the future. The Team was coordinated by Best to maintain consistency with the overall planning process and to insure the goals of the planning team were incorporated into the building design.

As Capital Works Director, Best was responsible for the overall management of the project. As part of those responsibilities, he monitored the project to insure the three environmental goals remained in the forefront of the design and building process. In keeping with those goals, he tracked site development, construction practices, and specification of materials and mechanical systems. The following discussion summarizes some of the sustainable design elements used in the project to meet the District goals during the design and construction of Sakai. The summary serves as an example of how goals for sustainable design may be put into practice. The elements are listed by number and are identified by use of the category headings from Table 1 earlier in this report.

  1. Site Preservation (Minimization of Sedimentation Flow): During site development, construction was phased to protect the on-site watershed and salmon habitat by minimizing sedimentation flow. Seeding of the site perimeter to hold loose soil was completed prior to initiation of building construction. Paving of the outer areas was completed next, to create building stage and worker parking sites, thereby avoiding excessive mud and pooling of water and silted runoff caused by the heavy use of construction equipment. The asphalt paving created a "moat" around the perimeter of the building and building pad to contain sedimentation. Three sedimentation ponds were built to filter and distribute the final flow of stormwater runoff into undisturbed natural areas within the watershed buffer areas.

  2. Site Preservation (Watershed Protection): In addition to reducing construction impacts, attention was also directed toward the impact of the building itself on the stream and watershed. A geotechnical analysis revealed that the building, as sited, would act as a dam to groundwater flowing into the ravine and stream and could, consequently, create conditions that would adversely impact that portion of the watershed. In response to this analysis, an interceptor trench was designed and built around the building to collect groundwater and disperse it to replicate the natural site flow and, thereby, protect the wetland area associated with the watershed.

  3. Site Preservation (Contaminant Control): The BISD applied another environmentally sensitive practice to the Sakai project by adopting a strict "no pesticide rule" for the school because of its proximity to the salmon stream. This designation is even more stringent than the District’s current policy which requires use of "integrated pest management" (IPM) at all its schools. (An IPM policy states that pesticide use will be avoided whenever possible.) To further mitigate any possible harm from contaminants, areas with asphalt pavement were designed to drain into three catch basins where the water was then shunted through a lawn area for filtration prior to entering the sedimentation pond. This option was chosen as a more ecologically friendly approach and a more effective solution in contrast to piping the water directly to the sedimentation ponds.

  4. Site Preservation (Protection of Natural Vegetation Cover): A community review of the site development plans raised concerns about potential negative impacts to the site that could result from extensive soil cuts around the sedimentation ponds. The cuts were made to achieve the correct grading slope. Citizens were concerned that the severity of the cuts would result in loss of natural vegetation cover and cause, because of the loss of a canopy cover to provide shade, increases in streamwater temperatures. Those increases could potentially harm salmon. In response to the concerns, plans were made to replant native vegetation extensively around the ponds and to monitor, over time, the water temperature at both the pond and at the point of outfall from the pond.

  5. Quality of Interior Building Environment (Air Quality): To insure that goals for high levels of indoor air quality were met, Best specified that the higher performance Canadian ventilation standards (20 cubic feet per minute of outside air per occupant) be used instead of the U.S. air standards (15 cubic feet per minute of outside air per occupant). A number of methods were used to meet IAQ goals with the intent that the cumulative effect of those methods would result in a high level of air quality in the completed building. To assist in meeting that goal a consultant was hired to provide and write detailed specifications of material use standards for the project.

    The specifications for low toxicity or non-toxic materials were, for example, built into plans for purchasing furniture, carpets and building materials such as gypsum board. In addition, recycled content percentages were specified for many of the building materials. Extensive testing was done on paints, adhesives and caulks to insure non-toxicity. The mechanical venting and filtration system for the school was built above standard. In addition, the mechanical system was designed to be located as a walk-in, easily accessible room to allow maintenance to occur on an ongoing, efficient and consistent basis.

    Efforts to achieve high standards for IAQ met with success in the initial testing upon school completion. In the 30-day off-gassing period air quality measures were below industry allowed levels by up to 84%. (Off-gassing is the period of time set aside before occupancy of a completed building to allow dispersal of toxins from materials used in the building.)

  6. Education: Using the school as a learning tool became another goal of the project team and, in particular, the teachers on the team. A small government grant was received to create two signs to describe the environmental features that were consciously built into the design and construction of the school. The grant also supported curriculum design to teach the Sakai students about green-building topics such as sensitive site development, integrated pest management and resource efficient buildings. The goal behind the curriculum design was twofold. First, it was to help children become familiar with the environmentally friendly aspects of the Sakai Intermediate School. Second, it was to inform teachers and parents about sustainability concepts that were integrated into the design and construction of the school.

  7. Community: The Sakai project captured the importance of place in the naming of the school and in a stone sculpture that was designed and made for installation in the school’s courtyard garden. Sonoji Sakai came to Bainbridge from Japan in 1915 and started one of the Island’s early farms. During World War II, Sakai and his family were interned in relocation camps for four years. He returned to the Island and, with his wife, raised six children, all of whom graduated from Bainbridge High School. He was grateful for the education his children received and showed that gratitude, in part, by a providing land for one of the District’s schools at a nominal cost. The Japanese-American community on Bainbridge Island designed and donated a garden for an inner courtyard at the school and a large stone from the original site was included in the garden design.


Sakai Intermediate School was designed to meet specific goals for environmental health and resource conservation. Leadership at the top was critical to insure that the project met stated goals. The project was championed by the School District Board. It was also championed by the project manager, Richard Best, and supported by a committed group of project planners and coordinators. Coordinated planning led to a clear statement of goals that were visible throughout the project to insure continuity of actions. Budgets were clearly set and managed. O'Brien & Co., specialists in the field of sustainable construction and development, and other specialists, were used to provide educational and technical training of sustainable design. To move incrementally towards achieving environmental goals, performance indicators were built into specifications to give contractors and the builders a clearly stated direction about the quality of materials that were to be used.

With the successes, challenges also arose. Several of those challenges are summarized below.

  1. Tradeoffs were discussed throughout the process. Some materials, such as the low Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) carpet, had a higher initial purchase cost but was still selected for installation because it was shown to cost less to maintain over time. (VOC’s vary in toxicity and can include chemical compounds that are carcinogenic.) Compromises were made in other parts of the building to keep the overall budget in line with projections. For example, to reduce costs, metal paneling was utilized at the gables on the building's exterior, to replace split faced concrete. Savings gained through that modification helped free up funds to purchase other, more expensive materials that were deemed critical to successfully meet environmental goals for the site.
  2. Although a materials specifications book was made for the project, it became apparent that it was not detailed or extensive enough to always provide clear direction for contractors or for those coordinating the project.
  3. Teachers chose wall space for display purposes over more extensive daylighting. Although there are at least two large windows in each room, the decision to limit their use goes against the findings of previously mentioned studies that favor more daylighting because of its positive impact on student performance.
  4. The education program for the newly configured 5th/6th grade program was not clearly defined going into the building design phase for the school and, as a result, design occurred before detailed program definition. This posed challenges and frustrations for some of the teaching staff.
  5. One teacher expressed some frustration over the unknown, or less predictable factor of future enrollment projections, especially in light of anticipated population growth in the school district. Her concern, in part, related to a realization that teaching staff might lose the flexible open space areas built into the design if those spaces were needed at some future date to accommodate a growing student population.

Having completed the Sonoji Sakai Intermediate School, BISD is in a good position to build on the knowledge gained in its design and construction. With more construction likely in the future, the District has the opportunity to take that knowledge and to expand its commitment to sustainable design.

Roy Lee Walker Elementary School

Roy Lee Walker Elementary School is in the McKinney Independent School District in the City of McKinney, Texas. McKinney, located about 50 miles north of Dallas, has been one of the fastest growing cities in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area during the 1990s. The population of the City has doubled to 44,000 residents since the 1990 census. This growth has an obvious impact on the school district. At the end of 1999, 10,900 students were enrolled. By 2003, the enrollment is projected to grow to 16,000 students. The McKinney Independent School District (MISD) has one high school, two middle school campuses, nine elementary school buildings, and three facilities that offer alternative education programs.

The MISD has a history of involvement with sustainable design for schools dating back to a $5.5 million grant it received in 1992 from the U.S. Department of Education to design a K-12 school utilizing integrated curriculum and technology. The school, originally built as a Works Progress Administration project in the 1930's, was remodeled with the intention that it be a first attempt to incorporate sustainable design features into a new building. Before that work, a number of the District schools had been retrofitted for energy systems upgrades that are more cost effective to operate and environmentally responsible.

With its history of exploration and involvement, the MISD was poised to pursue sustainable design for schools in a more comprehensive manner than it had previously. In 1997, the District was one of two to receive a $200,000 grant from the Texas State General Services Commission/State Energy Conservation Office. The grant fell under a program called "The Texas Initiative on Sustainable Schools." McKinney was selected from a list of 99 districts that were identified as the fastest growing districts in the state. Two other identifying factors were that the districts had bond money available for new schools but had not yet started the design process.

Having received the grant, the MISD moved ahead with plans to build a sustainably designed school. The project was championed by many - the state conservation office, the School Board, the school superintendent and the assigned project manager, Wyndol Fry, Executive Director of the District’s Facilities/Construction Group. A conscious decision was made to integrate the design fully with sustainable practices rather than to concentrate on one particular piece such as energy efficiency or indoor air quality. Realizing they needed to learn what it meant to build a "green school," the District chose to turn to others who were experts in the field. As a result, Innovative Design, a consultant group with extensive experience working with schools and sustainable design, was hired to work closely with the district, the architect (SHW Group), engineers and the contractor.

During the course of planning, different methods were used to educate District personnel and the community about sustainable design and making the planning process inclusive. District representatives, including Fry and two school principals, visited schools in North Carolina that had been designed by Innovative Design using sustainable principles. The architect held meetings to bring together a cross-section of people who would be involved with the school. Those meetings included teachers, staff, students and members of the community. The group met over three to five days to discuss the design process, their needs and the needs of the educational program. The contractor was included in the meetings from the start. The inclusive nature of the planning process was intentional to insure that all parties with responsibility for managing the project or those who would be directly impacted, were informed about the sustainability goals and given the opportunity to work for those goals from the project’s inception. Meetings were held over the course of the design process and a project manager from SHW worked closely with Fry to insure that the integrity of the design documents was maintained from inception through construction.

Roy Lee Walker Elementary School opened in the 2000-01 school year. The school is designed for 680 students, grades K-5. It totals 70,000 square feet and is built on a 11.3 acre site. Although designed using sustainable principles, the design was built around the needs of the educational program. The basic design represents a "finger plan," where each "finger" is a wing for two grade levels and ten classrooms. Three finger wings feed into a main building that includes a dining room, gym and library. Specific sustainable design features included in the school plan are listed below. The features are listed by number and are identified by use of the category headings from Table 1 earlier in this report.

  1. Resource Conservation (Energy Efficiency): The building is oriented to maximize southern exposure and minimize east-west exposure. Solar panels were installed to heat water for the school. A windmill is used on site to raise the level of water in the main cistern. Although geothermal energy systems were evaluated, a decision, based on cost estimates, was made to use an efficient but conventional heating, cooling and ventilation energy system.

  2. Resource Conservation (Water Usage): Rainwater is channeled through special gutters to four cisterns where it supplies water for campus irrigation. Hose bibs were built into each cistern to make the water available for use by children when they help to plant gardens around the perimeter of the school at some future date. Native grasses and plants will be used for landscaping to minimize water use and to limit mowing. Red cinders will be used on walkways instead of concrete because it is a more pervious and natural material and, unlike gravel and dirt, will not turn to mud in the rain.

  3. Resource Conservation (Environmentally Sensitive Building Products) and Quality of Interior Building Environment (Air Quality): Low-toxic or non-toxic materials were specified for the project, as well as products with high recycled content. Specifications covered use of such products as plastic laminators, adhesives and paint. Furniture and athletic products were also evaluated for their environmental health and efficiency of their manufacturing. Site construction was managed to require separation of building material waste during construction. An effort was made to buy locally.

  4. Quality of Interior Building Environment (Daylighting): Daylighting is used extensively throughout the design. Fry described it as "more than just old-fashioned skylights in the ceiling. It involves utilization of the sun to assist the lighting in the school." Light monitors "scoop" the sunlight in, bounce it off baffles, and send evenly distributed, non-glaring daylight into learning spaces. As the light enters through the monitors it is directed by rectangular shaped sheets of hanging fabric (baffles) that are hung in parallel formations to catch and evenly distribute the light.

  5. Education: Staff will receive training to learn how concepts of sustainability were applied to Roy Lee Walker. A sundial at the gym and in the courtyard will help students learn to identify winter and summer solstices and to read time using the sun as their watch. An eco-pond, part of a man-made stream, was built for use as an outdoor habitat classroom. A hand-pump is located next to the pond. A greenhouse and outdoor amphitheater were eliminated from the budget although the foundation for the greenhouse was built. In time, the community may raise the funds to build the amphitheater.

  6. Community: The school site is adjacent to a city park. The city and school district agreed to share the on-site school parking spaces and to allow the park to be used as a playground extension during school hours.


The design and construction of Roy Lee Walker Elementary School has been advertised and promoted by the School District as an important benchmark in new school design. The school received national recognition when the American Institute of Architects selected it as one of the 1999 Earth Day Top Ten award recipients in recognition of architectural design solutions that protect and enhance the environment. It represents the first effort by the MISD to intentionally design a school using an integrated and collaborative approach throughout the planning and construction management phases.

The budget for school design and construction came in higher than budgets for conventional building designs in the District. Daylighting was the most significant cost factor because of the steel used for construction. Alternative materials will be considered in the future. In addition, because this project served as a prototype for the district, first time costs for planning, logistics and materials use were expected to be higher to some extent.

Fry made significant cuts to eliminate $1 million from the budget. A large portion of that savings resulted from the elimination of daylighting in the gym. After making the cuts, because the budget was still higher than the School Board’s projections, Fry had to argue further to defend the design. He successfully made the argument by explaining that initial costs should be recovered over time due to significantly reduced operating costs. Those cost savings are expected to result from the use of highly efficient applications of lighting and energy systems, resource conservation, and materials use throughout the building.

The MISD is in a unique position to test this argument because it is building two new elementary schools simultaneously, Roy Lee Walker and a second, conventionally designed and built school. The District will study the two schools over time to compare operating costs, paybacks and differences in student performance. To seek funding in support of this effort the District applied to the Department of Energy, through the Texas State Energy Office, for a two-year, $350,000 grant to run a comparison study of the two schools. The study is intended to provide information about the effect of school facilities on the health and productivity of students. It is also intended to validate the need to design and build sustainable school facilities that "provide a safe and healthy atmosphere to educate our future generations." (Texas State Energy Conservation Office, 2000, p. 3). The study will be designed and administered by the University of North Texas and Texas A & M University’s Energy Systems Lab.

Newport Coast Elementary School

Newport Coast Elementary School is part of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District in California. The school district includes the cities of Newport Beach and Costa Mesa. It is approximately 30 miles south of Los Angeles and 90 miles north of San Diego. It is located in the third most populous county in California and covers 58.83 square miles. The District was established in 1966 and currently has 22 elementary schools (including Newport Coast Elementary), two intermediate schools, four high schools, one alternative education center, and one adult education center. Approximately 21,138 students attend schools in the District.

In June 1996, the District purchased land for construction of Newport Coast Elementary, its first new school in 25 years. The land, purchased from the Irvine Company, is located in the midst of a residential development built by the company. In 1997, Southern California Edison (SCE) approached the School Board and proposed that the school be designated an energy and environmental showcase facility to demonstrate cost-effective uses of energy-efficient technology and operations. The School Board approved the proposal, leading the way towards coordinated planning and design between the architects, SCE, the District, and the community. Ground breaking for the school occurred in September 1999 and occupancy is targeted for September 2000.

SCE, an investor owned energy company, collects "public goods funds" from ratepayers to promote energy-efficiency as part of their regulated activities dictated by the California Public Utilities Commission. The utility carries out one portion of this program through its Design and Engineering Services Group (D&ES), which is involved in showcase work with SCE customers. Deborah Weintraub, an architect and employee of SCE, works with D&ES. She, with her co-worker Tony Pierce, a mechanical engineer, were the two coordinators for the energy and environmental showcase portions of the Newport Coast project. Information about this project was gathered through a phone interview with Weintraub and by reading the paper "Mainstreaming the Sustainably Designed School." Weintraub co-authored the paper with Pierce and presented it at a "Mainstreaming Green" conference held by the American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1999.

Although the original intent of SCE was to support planning for an integrated, sustainably designed school campus, the project was modified to focus on sustainable design of energy systems. To meet that goal, D&ES facilitated an integrated design approach for all building systems in the school to optimize energy usage and to improve the environmental performance of the school’s buildings. Given the temperate climate of the school’s locale, the specific goal was to reduce the need for electrical lighting while minimizing solar heat gain, using natural ventilation to achieve comfortable temperatures. Going into the project, D&ES agreed to provide a number of services to assist in both energy systems design and materials use planning. Some of those services included energy modeling and natural ventilation systems studies using computer simulation programs, a "green materials" referencing source with specifications for materials that have low- or non-toxicity content, physical modeling for daylighting, energy-efficient lighting design and controls, and post-occupancy monitoring and results reporting.

A team planning approach was used for meetings with architects, members of the D&ES group, and school district and community representatives. Certain compromises to sustainable design were made up front. For example, the architects stipulated that the building should have a physical presence on the site to the west, leaving siting less flexible in terms of planning for energy efficiencies. The developer stipulated that to maintain consistency with the visual theme of the overall development, the homeowners in the surrounding development should look down onto a red tile roof. This requirement eliminated some options that may have been considered to enhance the overall energy efficiency of the design.

D&ES worked with a Design Committee that included teachers, administrators and parents. Members of that committee spoke to the need for flexible learning and teaching environments, systems to accommodate new computer technology, classrooms with individual control over space conditioning, good storage and "commodious" teacher work spaces. D&ES, through the Rand Corporation, ran focus groups to understand the goals of teachers and administrators and to gauge the interest in energy and environmental priorities for the new building. In general, teachers and administrators wanted multiple means to control temperature, ventilation, lighting and daylighting systems for individual classrooms. They also looked for flexibility in furniture arrangement and technology use.

Interestingly, D&ES found that educators viewed the building as a means to demonstrate lessons on energy efficiency, but not necessarily as a resource to contribute to student learning through specific sustainable design features. "Principals did not view renewable energy as a cost savings because their schools are not considered cost centers, since utilities are billed to the district office. Principals saw the benefit as one of virtue: modeling conservation for students" (Weintraub, 1999, p. 4). Because the sample from Newport Coast was small, Rand checked the responses against a national telephone survey that was conducted in 1998 by Heery International, a research company. The results and opinions documented for the Newport Coast focus groups were similar to those recorded in the national survey (Weintraub, 1999, p. 4).


The design goal for Newport Coast Elementary School was a combination of traditional and sustainable design proposals. That factor led to a number of design compromises. The intensive participation by SCE’s D&ES Group led to specific energy-efficient and sustainable design features that are integral to the overall design plan. Community participation was encouraged and facilitated to support those goals. The added benefit of D&ES’s access to highly technical methods to design, test and manage energy systems was clearly a benefit. Information from the community and national surveys also was beneficial because it identified specific levels of knowledge and awareness that school administrators and teachers hold pertaining to sustainable design features and concepts.

In the concluding pages of their presentation to the Chattanooga conference, Weintraub and Pierce (1999) offer some thoughtful comments about the challenges participants face in working with schools on goals for sustainable design. Their comments follow:

"The issues of energy use and the environment are primary issues for school design, and the Newport Coast Elementary School represents a test case of the benefits of integrating current energy modeling and analysis techniques into the school design process. It should not be forgotten, however, that other very fundamental design issues are of equal significance during this current opportunity to rethink our schools. Apart from issues of sustainable design, any discussion of new schools must include imagining the best environments for learning and for integrating developing minds into our society. ….Optimization of a campus’ operations is of little value if the fundamental underlying questions on how to improve education through new school design have not been asked and discussed.

"Often a design project seems in retrospect to only vaguely have approximated all of the lofty intentions of the participants in the process, participants that include everyone from the architects and consultants, to the District officials, to the students and the teachers. It is always a challenge to maintain higher goals through what is often a bruising process. With the design assistance that D&ES brought to this process, an added effort was required by the design team to integrate an entirely new set of intentions into a complex process. The design team was consistently responsive to these added pressures, and graciously balanced competing interests when they arose. Ultimately, it is clear that without a client’s early dedication to energy efficiency and environmental issues, little value can be derived from the sophisticated analysis tools used in this project. Setting a clear and widely supported sustainability agenda early in the process will go further to meeting the goal of reducing a building’s impact on the earth than all of the sophisticated engineering tools used here (p. 26)."

Summary Observations

Each of the three schools described in this section included varying degrees of sustainable design elements in their design and building projects. Despite the variation however, the coordinators for all the projects each worked from similar philosophical foundations in their application of sustainable principles to design and project management. It is critical to embrace those principles to realize the benefits that result from successful application of sustainable design features.

The three cases present examples of how differences in support from decision-making levels of leadership can affect the outcome of a project. Each project clearly shows that leadership at the top is critical if a school is to be designed to minimize its impact on the earth, to be a healthy and enjoyable environment for occupants, and to be a cost-effective building to operate. In the Sakai and Roy Lee Walker projects, the school boards were behind the decisions to use sustainable design. Coordinators who understood and supported those goals were assigned to manage the projects. The Newport Coast project also had champions to follow through on goals for sustainability. However, because of client concerns, the scope of those goals were narrowed to specifically address energy-efficiency.

While both the Sakai and Roy Lee Walker projects were comprehensive in their embrace of sustainable design applications, the Roy Lee Walker project led to a more comprehensive application of certain features because of the direction set from the beginning of the project. Leadership at Sakai clearly stated three environmental goals that were to be met by design decisions. Those goals were pursued comprehensively and with sensitivity. In contrast, in Texas, the goal was set to build a "sustainable elementary school." That decision resulted in a planning process that questioned every conventional design application from energy use to landscape design. The architect was brought into the process with the understanding that the total design should be based on sustainable principles. The Roy Lee Walker project perhaps represents the one where the intent to totally embrace principles of sustainable design is best represented.

It is important to note that in all three projects experts in the field of sustainable design and in the use of sustainable materials were brought in as consultants, or in the case of Newport Coast, as project coordinators. Understanding of applications of sustainability is an evolutionary process. Participants in the process will learn from both their own and others' applications. It can be useful, and also very effective, to use experts in the field to help with the education and guidance that leads others to understand that the application of sustainable principles can result in both successful and cost-effective design.

Collaboration across teams of project participants, including community participation, was also clearly an important component of all three projects. Commentary and analysis by the community led to more open discussions of the plans and, in some cases, extensions in the time it took for plan review and approval. All the project participants interviewed for this paper were supportive of the public process while also acknowledging the reality of the frustrations that may accompany it. The use of the building as a teaching tool for students to learn about environmental stewardship was also an important element of each project and it represents another means of realizing community involvement.

As with any project of the scale these represent, realities of budget constraints arose in all three cases. The project coordinators were faced with making compromises while still working to keep intact the goals for sustainable design. Decisions were made based on least-impact to sustainable principles while also considering the reality of the particular dynamics at play for each of the school districts.

Finally, each school represents its own unique design that is appropriate to the site. While that may seem like an obvious point, it is important in that it points out that sustainable design is not a particular design style. It represents, instead, a philosophical approach to building that is sensitive to the needs of the site and of the client. The architect and project participants may be creative in any number of ways to create a design that meets the requirements of the principles of sustainable design.

For additional information about sustainable design in schools, the bibliography includes additional useful resources including many online documents.


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