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Public School Teaches and Inspires Environmental Design+Construction 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 everybody’s business.” -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. Perkins+Will’s design 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 on www.usgbc.org). 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 operating budgets. 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 northern daylight. 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 community. 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 auditorium. Photo 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 examples: 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 southern exposure. 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 China? 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 Perkins+Will. 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 challenging site certifications: 2006 studio design award given of four densely by the texas society of architects; registered for compressed city leed certification. blocks diminished by project team architects: perkins+will (peter urban blight in brown, patrick glenn, rusty walker, mark walsh, Dallas. Photo courtesy of justin parscale, andy craigo, carol cumbie) Perkins+Will. 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 gymnasium. 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.
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