Any school construction project is the sum of its parts. Paul McCullough, AIA, with Architectural Concepts, Inc. (ACI), gave a lot of thought to that axiom when he set out more than a decade ago to develop materials standards for products and construction methods he specifies for school projects. The Hurst, Texas, architect was after constituent elements that would collectively reduce the initial cost, construction schedule and the long-term operating expenses for a school facility without compromising ACI’s design originality.

More than two years of collaborative research with a prominent structural engineering firm produced what McCullough calls a“System Built Concept” for school construction. The approach combines the rigid frame building system for the structural steel requirement, with standing seam metal roof systems and various types of masonry walls as the building envelope. The approach included far more than just the structural requirements, however. The concept identified HVAC, lighting and other related systems and array of interior finish materials applied to school projects. The resulting concept delivers an energy-efficient, weathertight structure with clear-span interiors that facilitate spatial subdivisions.

ACI’s disciplined approach has since been applied to more than 30 school projects whose construction costs ran 15 to 20 percent less than schools produced with conventional materials and methods. Other standard elements in The System Built Concept include flat slab structural foundations, interior wall and floor finishes, millwork, lighting and environmental systems, and the communications infrastructure to support an increasingly high-tech learning environment.

The firm’s maximum value concept even complements progressive project delivery methods, such as hiring a Construction Manager (CM) At Risk rather than awarding a contract on the basis of the lowest bid. This increasingly popular method enables a district to select a prequalified contractor on the basis of fees, experience, reputation and a guaranteed price for a proposed project. The project team, comprised of the district representative, architect, CM and major subcontractors, works closely to identify savings and ensure project completion within the guaranteed maximum price. Changes are more easily adopted and upgrades often underwritten from resulting savings.

New School Reflects Intended Quality

The high school ACI designed for Van Alstyne (Texas) Independent School District (ISD) clearly embodies the System Built Concept. ACI earned selection as the project architect after designing an earlier 575-student elementary school that successfully applied the concept.

“Although the elementary school has been functional, we wanted the high school to be very classy without being ostentatious,” reflects Bill Lytle, Van Alstyne ISD superintendent.“The facility would have more in character with a community college or university building that might also encourage many of our future students to pursue higher education.”

The still largely rural district lacks a mature and diversified tax base as it undergoes increased residential development and enrollment growth. This community responded to the district’s proposed project by passing the $18-million bond election by a solid 66 percent favorable margin.

Pogue Construction was selected as Construction Manager At Risk for the 101,400-sq.-ft. school. Butler Manufacturing Company supplied engineering services and the building systems structural framing and high-performance standing seam metal roof systems whose steel panels were supplied with a custom copper color finish. Schwob Building Company, Ltd., Dallas, served as the building systems contractor and erector. The walls are predominantly low-maintenance masonry veneers, a standard derived from ACI’s preferred standards.

Among the changes adopted after the project was well into design was the deletion of EIFS in favor of two-in., factory-insulated metal wall panels from Butler with a textured coating that is resistant to unfavorable weather conditions. The panels were substituted for EIFS on the wall area along full-length stepped clerestory that extends down the double-loaded corridors of the classroom wings. Other architectural elements at the roof include cupolas, hips and valley architectural profiles. The gymnasium walls applied pre-insulated acoustical block faced with brick veneer and standing seam metal roof insulated to R-30+.

Once well underway with construction of the project, the school board decided to build a fourth classroom wing to the dry shell stage but finish out the interior later. This wing will add seven more classrooms and increase the capacity from the original 550 up to 800 students. The school entered service this school year with 440 enrolled.

The school occupies part of a 51-acre site, much of which was prepared for later phases of construction.

The initial construction provides: 18 base classrooms, two resource classrooms, three science labs, a college-style tiered lecture lab with laptop computer terminals and library/media center. The multipurpose cafetorium seats 150 for meals and 400 for stage events and is supported by a double serving line and full kitchen. Other areas in the plan are a band room and generous administration and counselor offices. Computers are supported not only by fiber optic cabling and CAT-V wiring but also by a wireless system.

The 850-seat competition gym has the court floor recessed 2.5 ft. below bleacher level and bordered by a 36-in.-high glass security railing. Dressing rooms with lockers are provided for boys and girls, along with offices for the staff. A separate, 6,300-sq.-ft. vocational agricultural building near the gym subdivides into two classrooms, a computer lab, restrooms, drive-through shop, a wash bay for county fair show animals, and space for offices and material storage.

Although originally designed for the customary locker bays at the classroom wing intersections, Lytle spearheaded the decision to eliminate them. The district issues students a personal set of textbooks to keep at home and provides a second set in the classroom for daily use.

This decision came after space already had been provided in the floor plan for the locker bays. With their elimination, two large commons areas were created at the two corridor intersections with the building’s main hallway. Students congregate in these areas that also provide space for college and job fairs, school retirement events, senior prom and even informal community meetings.

Primary structural steel framing has been left exposed over these two areas and painted a bold blue, the school’s color used extensively throughout. This adds a geometric feature that contrasts with the fully-finished vaulted ceilings that extend down the classroom corridors. The clerestory elements flood the hallways with daylighting and create an attractive feature for passing motorists when the windows are backlit at night.

Floor finishes throughout are low-maintenance classroom carpeting and marble chip tile in the corridors.The district opted for a total-electric facility served by multiple HVAC package units instead of a central plant. The cost to extend a natural gas line to the new school seemed prohibitive but total-electric heating and cooling also dictated a well-insulated building envelope. ACI specified R-19 insulation in both the roof and wall assemblies. The aluminum windows have a 3/16-in. thermal break with solar-grey tinted exterior lites.

The energy management system monitors programmable settings for the entire facility from a central station in Atlanta. Teachers can exercise 90-minute overrides for their individual classrooms. Most importantly, the EMS helps to control peak demand charges for the electric utility service. Superintendent Lytle anticipates the monthly electric bills for the school will range from $6,000 to $13,000 at the present time.

The program that produced the Van Alstyne High School demonstrates a progressive — and economical — approach to an admirable facility. Phase I was completed for $124 per sq. ft., including 32 acres of site work.