Facilities of Environmental Distinction: The American Institute of Architects Honors a Few Buildings That Reveal Environmental Stewardship

By Pascopella, Angela | District Administration, March 2011 | Go to article overview

Facilities of Environmental Distinction: The American Institute of Architects Honors a Few Buildings That Reveal Environmental Stewardship


Pascopella, Angela, District Administration


THREE OF NINE SCHOOL BUILDINGS that have won the latest Educational Facility Design Awards from the American Institute of Architects' Committee on Architecture for Education stand out from the crowd of other school buildings because they are sustainable and are connected to the nature that surrounds them.

The awards program is designed to identify trends and emerging ideas, honor excellence in planning and design, and disseminate knowledge about best practices in educational and community facilities, according to the AIA.

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Thurston Elementary School

In the Springfield (Ore.) Public Schools, Thurston Elementary School replaced a 55-year-old dilapidated building, according to Jeff DeFranco, the district's director of communications and facilities. It didn't have a cafeteria or gymnasium, and the heating was horrible, with one section of the building reaching 90 degrees on certain days and other sections of the building so cold that students and staff had to wear winter coats, DeFranco says.

Construction for the new school started in June 2008 and finished in December 2009. q-he AIA committee described the school's design this way: "[The] gentle, sloping silhouette mirrors the McKenzie River valley's tree-lined hills to the south and north. Sheets of exposed, tilt-up concrete create a structural rhythm that expresses the scale of these hills and grounds the building to its site. Wood-framed glass walls bring light and views from the outdoors into transparent connectors, including the entry, library and commons."

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Special features include occupancy sensors so that when no one is in a room, the lights turn off and stay off; natural sunlight that cuts down on artificial lighting usage; and photo cells on the ceilings of classrooms and some hallways, which monitor the amount of daylight streaming in and automatically shut off artificial lights in a room when the daylight is sufficient.

The school's interior reflects the history of the Springfield timber industry, with woodwork in hallways, classrooms and cabinets. "It makes it warm and inviting, as opposed to some schools that have more of an institutional feeling," DeFranco says.

The concrete tilt-up walls provide for "night-flushing" during warmer months. During late spring and early fall, the heating and ventilation system brings in the cool, night air, which naturally cools the inside of the building during the day.

The facility also has outdoor sites such as bioswales to collect rainwater that flows from parking lots, playgrounds and roofs. This eliminates the need to use the city's storm-water system, which uses energy to process rainwater. The rain naturally gets reabsorbed into the ground.

The building is 20 percent more efficient than other school buildings in the state that are required to have some energy efficiency, DeFranco says.

The Cathcart Site

In the Snohomish (Wash.) School District, Glacier Peak High School and Little Cedars Elementary School were brand-new schools built to accommodate increasing student enrollment. The Cathcart Site, the name of the area where both schools were built, sits on a hill and has a 180-degree view of the Cascade Mountains in Washington. …

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