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Smart Design

Two schools prove that style, energy savings and innovative layouts can all be present in your next

Schools with innovative and flexible designs that maximize natural daylight and save energy can benefit teachers, community members and students. Students thrive in sun-filled classrooms; teachers have the freedom to explore alternative instructional models; and community members enjoy bottom-line budget savings through energy reductions.

Lakes Community High School in Lake Villa, Ill., and Hassan Elementary School in Rogers, Minn., are two schools designed and built with energy efficiency in mind, but also with careful attention to the school's appearance. These schools exemplify how a new school can encourage collaboration, fit the current and future curriculum and facilitate interaction between the school and the community.

Lakes Community High School, Lake Villa, Ill.

The philosophy behind the design of Lakes Community High School, a new 272,000-square-foot high school in Lake Villa, Ill., was simple, according to former school superintendent Dennis Hockney: Use innovative and flexible design to make provisions for future changes in curriculum and instructional models.

"Don't let the design get in the way of what the future will bring us." -Dennis Hockney, former superintendent, Community H.S. District 117

"Don't let the design get in the way of what the future will bring us." -Dennis Hockney, former superintendent, Community H.S. District 117

The school, which cost about $39 million including site acquisition and construction costs, was completed in mid-2004. The district, Community High School District 117, serves four communities in northern Illinois. The new school was necessary to relieve overcrowding at the district's sole high school, Antioch Community High School. Antioch halved its enrollment, from 2,550 to 1,300, since Lakes opened.

Lakes Community High School has an innovative, flexible and energy-efficient design. Its layout allows the school to serve now as a traditional, grade-specific high school and to function in the future as four smaller schools within the larger school. Although not a certified Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, which is developed for higher performance, it was built with high-performance design in mind and has many energy-saving features.

Planned for multiple learning communities within a 1,500-student capacity, the layout has the ability to accommodate up to 2,000 students. It has two three-story classroom wings. The top and bottom floors are the same in both wings, each having eight classrooms, two multi-purpose rooms and a large teacher planning area. The second floor of each wing is meant for science instruction and can be shared by all teachers.

Although the building was designed to facilitate four learning communities in the future, it's also built to ensure collaboration with its flexible design. The district looks to its teachers to develop their own curriculum and instructional models, so administrators wanted to allow the building's interior spaces to be easily changed. To this end, the building was designed with no interior masonry walls or lockers within the classroom wings, and none of the interior walls are load-bearing. All interior walls in the instructional part of the building were designed to be easily taken down or moved.

Underutilized, specialized classrooms like the driver's education room and the health classroom, often sited off on the end of the building near the gym, are located in the main space of the building so that they can be a resource available to all teachers.

"The district wanted to give teachers the freedom to make choices and to create optimal learning environments," notes Stuart Brodsky, an architect at OWP/P, a Chicago-based architectural firm and project manager for Lakes Community High School.

Students Phased In

Lakes Community High School began phasing in students from the district's existing high school at the beginning of the 2004-2005 school year, when it admitted freshmen and sophomores. Juniors were added this school year, seniors this fall.

In addition to its flexible design, Lakes Community High School also was built with an eye toward energy efficiency. Although the district didn't specifically request a building that maximized natural day lighting, the architects oriented all classrooms to the north and south, optimizing their ability to catch sunlight and reducing overheating certain areas of the building at different times of the day.

"As we designed the building, the business manager was interested in opportunities for systems efficiency, even if it meant spending a little more money on systems now," Brodsky says. The district investigated different heating systems including geothermal and high-efficiency boilers but went with rooftop package units.

"You do the best you can with the funds you have, while considering long-term value and ease of maintenance," Brodsky says. "Going through an evaluation process early on is very important."

Brodsky says the team designed the building to fit into the topography of the site, allowing the educational spaces to sit on the quiet side of the site toward the wetlands and the more active public spaces like administrative offices, auditorium and some of the athletic areas to overlook the parking area, which needed to be large to accommodate commuting students.

The site's extensive wetlands posed a challenge to the architects but turned out to be an asset to the school's curriculum. "The question was, how do you maintain the wetlands, provide enough storm water retention, fit the school into the site and make it all gel together in a good learning environment?" Brodsky says.

"Any water that leaves this site via surface conveyance to the lakes that people swim in and where there are normal or endangered species of fish had to be very clean, and we had to come up with a way to deal with that," Brodsky notes. The solution was a storm water retention system with plants native to the area that mimicked the existing wetlands.

Today, the school uses the wetlands as a teaching tool. "We wanted to make the wetlands part of the instructional program. There were wetlands there and also a lot of wooded area on the property so this was an opportunity to incorporate the site into the curriculum," Hockney says. "Students study water quality and the life in the water. The principal says the students come back wet and muddy. It's relevant when you can do that rather than just look at wetlands on a slide or computer screen."

When Hockney became superintendent in the mid-1990s, his mission was to develop a strong open relationship between the school and community, recognizing that each one services the other. "The district has worked hard to give its schools that kind of connection," Brodsky points out. The school's auditorium, off the main entrance, can be separated from the rest of the school. Dinner and theater events have been held in the auditorium.

The site also houses a community center owned by the two townships served by Lakes Community High School. It includes a senior center, school district and township offices and a Catholic Charities Meals on Wheels distribution center. These additional uses helped the district pass the referendum to building the school, while facilitating interaction between students and seniors and allowing the seniors to easily access school facilities.

Hassan Elementary School, Rogers, Minn.

Architectural firm KKE of Minneapolis designed a "green" elementary school in Rogers, Minn., but you might never guess it by looking at the outside of the building. The 99,400-square-foot K-5 school on a 24-acre site sports a very traditional appearance but still has some valuable energy-saving features inside.

Hassan Elementary School, designed for 700-plus students, was also built quickly; the building went from design to completion in just 15 months. It was completed in August 2005, and got its certificate of occupancy the day before the 2005-06 school year began. It cost about $18 million to build.

The rapid process was possible because KKE had previously designed and built two similar buildings in the area, Rogers High School and Zimmerman Elementary School. "These buildings used some basic principles of design to capture as much natural light as possible and through design, reduce heating loads to the greatest extent possible," explains Lee Meyer, an architect who was a member of the design team for the projects.

Hassan Elementary School was designed to meet the U.S. Green Building Council's criteria for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification. The school itself isn't LEED certified, however, although it uses the same energy strategies and materials here as in Zimmerman Elementary. "We just didn't go through the LEED certification process because it's very costly, and runs from $1 to $2 per square foot to do," Meyer explains.

A prototype for a high performance school that maximizes natural daylight created an energy-efficient school environment that also happens to be more conducive to learning.

"This community has put time and money into building quality schools that will last a lifetime." -Heidi Adamson, principal, Hassan Elementary School

Before any of the district's green buildings were designed, members of the district and KKE traveled to Germany and Switzerland with representatives of Johnson Controls to look at school design. The team found that European schools are using larger windows to take advantage of the energy savings afforded by natural day lighting, contradicting popular wisdom here.

"This community has put time and money into building quality schools that will last a lifetime." -Heidi Adamson, principal, Hassan Elementary School

In the past several decades, many schools were built with small windows and large banks of fluorescent lights, because of the popular thought that larger windows would lead to increased heat loss, reducing the building's energy efficiency. "The extra heat you lose from large windows might be $6,000 a year, but you'll save $8,000 on electrical costs since you won't need to turn on lights in well-lit classrooms," Meyer explains. "That's a net savings of $2,000 a year, just on that one factor. You do, however, need to be sure you use the best-performing windows you can find."

The prominent windows also have a less tangible benefit, according to Hassan principal Heidi Adamson. "I never realized how important daylight was to the climate of the building and to people's feelings," Adamson says. "It seems that when the sun is shining, everyone seems to be happier and students are more engaged in learning."

KKE oriented all educational spaces to the north or south to maximize exposure to the sun. "If classrooms face north or south, you have a more controllable sun condition. Surprisingly, even on the north side of the building, you can get 35-foot candles into a desk surface in the room.

The Importance of Multi-Use

Although Hassan was designed with large windows, the town requested a more traditional-looking building. The school has a red-brick fa?ade, sloped roofs and a tower with a bell that rings every school day at 8:15 and 3:30. The media center is located in a central location on the second floor and is visible from the school entrance.

Another school focal point is its cafeteria. "We have all of our school gatherings and special guest performances and achievement awards presented here," Adamson notes.

The school's gymnasium and multi-purpose rooms, at the south end of the school's corridor, are also designed to accommodate community events. "The community helped quite a bit in the building's design, and now it's used by many different groups at night and on weekends," she adds.

Because of the traditional design, many residents still aren't aware of the building's energy savings, but in time, they will be. "The building's only been open for eight months so we have no data [yet], but it's projected to be 50 percent more efficient than a code-based building," says Ron Bratlie, the district's director of special business operations.

The district received energy rebates for utilities from both the electric and gas companies, Centerpoint Energy and Excel Energy. Rebates were for the HVAC system and for some kitchen equipment.

Although Hassan Elementary School has a large footprint, it was designed with future growth in mind. Adamson says the school has plans to add eight classrooms to the school's south wing if population growth demands it. However, the school's design already has sufficient bathroom and cafeteria space to accommodate 1,000 students.

"This community has put time and money into building quality schools that will last a lifetime," Adamson says. "So often when districts build schools just to take care of space issues, it ends up that the district winds up spending a lot of money to fix them. When you build a school well the first time, hopefully you won't have to spend a lot of money fixing them in the future."

Peggy Bresnick Kendler is a contributing editor.