Public School Teaches and Inspires
By Peter Brown, AIA, LEED AP
Published: January 1, 2007
the sustainable learning environment at hector garcia middle school in
dallas inspires young people and the community to flourish.
“Education is our freedom, and an education should be
-Hector P. Garcia
I’m frequently asked about the challenges
associated with integrating sustainable
design principles into our public school
projects. Often people assume
sustainability is too pricey for public school
districts, which typically operate on tight
budgets and narrow design guidelines.
Nothing could be further from the truth. approach for the Hector
Garcia Middle School in
I feel strongly that good design is Dallas provides a
democratic design, envisioned and built to compelling case study
enhance a community’s collective desire to for applying
sustainability on a tight
learn, connect and grow. With that in mind,
public school district
the cost of not creating sustainable learning budget. Photo courtesy
environments that inspire young people to of Perkins+Will
flourish — academically, creatively, socially
— are too high to bear. As architects, we have an obligation to
students, teachers, administrators and communities in every
academic setting. A sustainable public school is good for everyone.
One study referenced by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)
notes that building green saves the average school $100,000 every
year – enough to fill two full-time teaching positions. It has also
been shown that green schools contribute to overall student
achievement and teacher retention (Source: Capital E study cited
But the most surprising truth? The biggest part of sustainability is
found in the small but significant choices that together chalk up big
differences. Low-tech solutions help maximize resources and reduce
Perkins+Will’s design approach for the Hector Garcia Middle School
in Dallas provides a compelling case study for applying this
approach to sustainability on a tight public school district budget.
Following are some lessons learned from our work on this project,
which is due to be completed in early 2007.
creating a sustainable sense of place
In 2002, the Dallas Independent School
District passed a $1.37 billion bond
package to improve its educational
facilities, including design and construction
of 21 new schools. One of the schools was
the Hector Garcia Middle School, named
after Dr. Hector P. Garcia, the late Mexican-
Design solutions work
with the natural
American civil rights leader who was a
environment rather central figure in Texas and national public
than imposing upon it, life for the latter half of the 20th century.
including the situation
of classrooms to The selected site provided an immediate
receive optimal and important design challenge: four
Photo courtesy of
densely compressed city blocks diminished
Perkins+Will. by urban blight in the North Oak Cliff area
of Dallas. The Perkins+Will design team
quickly envisioned a facility that would not only enrich student life,
but would also create a revitalized sense of place within its
To address the social aspect of sustainability, it was important to
consider how the facility announced itself to the community – that it
be as inviting and evocative of Hector Garcia’s legacy from the
outside as on the inside. To achieve this, we’ve planned a location
for a 25-by-160 foot exterior wall mural celebrating Garcia’s life and
marking the school as a welcoming oasis for the community.
Design invites the community inside the school in a number of
ways. The 175,000 square-foot, three-story building is zoned for
public access to the school’s gymnasium, library and performing
arts auditorium. A media center and auditorium share a common
lobby, creating an open gathering place for students and their
families, educators and community groups. Throughout the facility,
spaces for student and professional artwork co-exist, creating an
environment that encourages dialogue about the visual arts.
a green light for green design
As with all of the new schools in the bond
program, green design was not in the
budget for the Hector Garcia Middle School.
But Perkins+Will, along with the project’s
program manager DMJM Management, felt
strongly that a responsible school must
also be a sustainable school, and our
The 175,000 square-foot,
earliest conversations with school district
three-story middle school
officials were around achieving is zoned for public access
sustainability on a budget. They agreed to the school’s
with us about the value of sustainability gymnasium, library and
but were understandably concerned that 450-seat performing arts
the project work within budget and
courtesy of Perkins+Will.
existing design guidelines.
With these parameters in place, we knew that engaging the client
to make decisions with us along the way would be essential to
achieving sustainability. Our design solutions needed to be
foundational, organic to the process, rather than “add-ons” that
could be excised from the budget at a later date. Ultimately,
sustainable design is about observing the environment’s natural
processes for design solutions. It’s not about hauling in a trove of
expensive materials and gadgets. Instead, the question is: “What is
the natural capital we have to work with?”
For the Hector Garcia project, this approach presented solutions
that were not costly, because they work with the natural
environment rather than imposing upon it. A few noteworthy
Classrooms and labs were situated to receive optimal northern
daylight, which is ideal for study and also minimizes cooling
demand. The building’s northern side also features a sweeping city
skyline view, providing students a sense of connectedness with the
world beyond the academic environment.
Placing all of the classrooms on the north side of the building yielded
another advantage for students. By positioning classrooms on one
side of a central corridor, with large-volume shared spaces on the
opposite side, the building is intuitive for even the newest students
to navigate — an important consideration for a school that
accommodates 6th-8th graders.
Large volume and shared instructional spaces are located toward the
south of the building, providing a direct connection to the school’s
outdoor play areas.
To assist energy efficiency and ensure a comfortable indoor climate,
the building’s exposure to the east and west sun are minimized.
Program spaces in the southern portion of the building require
minimal natural light and are situated with the ability to control the
Much effort went into designing exterior landscaping to be beautiful,
educational and resource efficient. Water systems were chosen to
sustainably and efficiently accommodate the harsh Texas sun, with
drainage to meet the city’s stringent storm water protection plan. A
lush outdoor green space will give students an opportunity to learn
about native plant life and history, with 10 Texas topographic
“regions” included in the landscape design.
the impact of a single building
The scale of our global environment can be
overwhelming. How can we achieve
sustainable solutions in our own
communities, much less address rapidly
developing cultures such as India and
Recycled content and One answer, as with so many seemingly
locally sourced materials, insurmountable challenges, is to look to
such as brick, rebar and
concrete, were used in the
our own backyards. Within our
construction of Hector communities, talented, creative and
Garcia Middle School. committed people can come together to
Photo courtesy of
create incremental change. I can’t think of a more important outlet
for these energies than our public schools.
Imagine the impact that a single sustainable school can have over
its lifespan — with tens of thousands of students, educators,
parents and community members experiencing sustainable
strategies first hand. If each of these people were to implement
even one sustainable lesson learned, the impact to the environment
would be exponential. Just as Hector Garcia championed public
education as a means for societal change, our work in schools is
critical in giving sustainability deep roots; in ensuring its ideals are
not a fad, but an enduring shift in values.
SIDEBAR: hector p. garcia middle school
size: 175,000 square feet, three stories, 1,000
students, grades 6-8, site area is 13.4 acres
location: five minutes south of downtown dallas
in the north oak cliff area of the city
facility: includes academic and special education
classrooms, career education, instructional
technology, science labs, kitchen, cafeteria,
media center, gymnasium and playfields
(baseball, football, running track, tennis courts), The design team
administrative offices, performing arts, visual arts produced a
and a 450-seat auditorium. facility to enrich
student life and
scheduled completion date: spring 2007 revitalize the
community on a
certifications: 2006 studio design award given
of four densely
by the texas society of architects; registered for compressed city
leed certification. blocks
project team architects: perkins+will (peter urban blight in
brown, patrick glenn, rusty walker, mark walsh, Dallas. Photo
justin parscale, andy craigo, carol cumbie)
client: dallas independent school district
program manager: dmjm management
contractor: satterfield & ponitkes construction, inc.
building standards and codes for dallas schools: dallas
independent school district technical design guidelines, dallas
independent school district educational specifications, 2000
international building code, 2000 life safety code, international fire
code, national fire protection association manual, texas education
agency design standards, texas accessibility standards, american
disabilities act, international mechanical code, national electric
code, 2001 energy code, international plumbing code
green building materials and product manufacturers
masonry: sioux city brick & tile co. via blackson brick.
window systems: efco: architectural windows, storefront system
and curtain wall system.
metal panel system: morin: u-12panel profile, 1-1/2” fluted
custom color “xl silver” by centria.
floors: lone star decorative concrete: multi-stage diamond
polishing concrete floors; armstrong: excelon vct in multi-color,
imperial texture; bentley prince street: interplay and interlock high-
performance carpet, dupont type 6, 6 cf nylon; bauer sport floors:
tongue and groove 2-1/4” oak wood floors in auditorium; action
floor systems: actioncush i free-floating maple flooring system in
walls: featherlite: cmu; u.s. gypsum: abuse-resistant sheetrock
and fiberock; brick; featherlite: honed block in “limestone”; ici
paints: “ultra-hide” latex semi-gloss paint.
ceilings: u.s. gypsum: sheetrock; u.s. gypsum: climaplus
suspended lay-in acoustical ceiling tile; tectum: suspended
acoustical ceiling panels; exposed acoustical metal deck.
lighting: lightolier: various fixtures and lights.
mechanical systems: two-pipe system; rooftop units.
Peter Brown, AIA, LEED AP
Peter Brown, AIA, LEED AP, principal, leads Perkins+Will’s K-12 Education
practice, a research-based team of strategic planners focused on
maximizing educational opportunities through informed facility decisions.
With more than 15 years experience, his planning and design of nationally
and internationally recognized school facilities reflects a unique local,
national and international perspective. He provides creative, long-term
strategies that employ immediate solutions to successfully connect
facilities and learning. His leadership has resulted in acclaimed public and
private school projects worldwide, including the award-winning Fearn
Elementary School in Illinois and the International School in Beijing.