Sustainable Design for Schools


As a result of poor conditions of many school buildings nationally, there is a growing body of support to fund school building renovation and new design initiatives. The rationale behind this support is twofold. First, the argument is made that students need a healthy and safe environment to support academic goals for learning. Secondly, a case is made to repair and build schools that are cost effective to operate so public funds are not wasted and more funds are directly available for student education.

A parallel discussion gaining more recognition centers on "green design," which refers to designing buildings (such as homes, offices, educational centers) and interior spaces with a commitment to merge environmental needs, sound economic decisions, and human needs for healthy, and, in the case of workplaces, productive environments. By linking green design and the national need for new and updated school buildings – there is an opportunity to apply innovative principles of design and, in particular sustainable design, to plans for new school buildings. This, in turn, creates an opportunity to use sustainable design as a tool to help schools fulfill their educational mission. Sustainable design can create an environment conducive to learning. The impacts of poor design and the benefits of sustainable design on student performance have been documented.

Several components may be considered in looking at sustainable design for schools. They include the built environment (buildings and facilities), the learning environment, and the operations and maintenance environment. The built environment includes the outer shell of the building and the systems and materials that go into making the building a safe and protected shelter for occupants. It also includes the site. The learning environment includes the community of people –– teachers, administrative and support staff, parents and volunteers – who use curriculum and other teaching materials to help students reach academic and social goals for learning and achievement. The operations and maintenance environment includes the materials and systems that are required to keep the school building and grounds operating safely and cost effectively.

The components - the built, learning, and operations and maintenance environments - are interdependent but, for the purposes of this report, the discussion will focus on the built environment. This report will provide an overview of practical applications of specific sustainable design principles, the impacts of design features on student performance, and three descriptions of experiences from school districts that have incorporated sustainable design principles into new school buildings.


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