Grow Up, Not Out, With Green Certification

With the green movement gaining momentum, it is still a surprise to some at just how few districts have stepped up and committed to green resolutions for their schools. In Orange County (CA), slices of green can be found within several districts. At Brea Olinda High School in Brea, a new expansion receives CHPS certification — the third in the region.

What is CHPS you ask? CHPS is the Collaborative for High Performance Schools and its mission is to promote a national movement that facilitates the design, construction, and operation of high performance schools. CHPS schools are not only green, they are energy and resource efficient, healthy, comfortable, and well-lit facilities. The CHPS certification system is similar to that of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), and works to promote green schools for every site and every budget. CHPS began in California as America’s first green building rating program specifically designed for K-12 schools and has now spread to seven other states — it has even been adopted by several community college districts.

At Brea Olinda High School, we, as their architects, saw how CHPS certification aligned with their objectives for a more spacious, high performance campus.

“There were no extra premiums and the trust level was there, so the administrators just let us do it,” recounts Wendy Rogers, lead designer for the expansion. “To achieve CHPS certification, we didn’t have to design any differently because at our firm, we already create each project with the highest green quotient possible.”

Tucked in the hills above a busy freeway, the site of the expansion was a former practice field that had been set aside for future development. On clear days, students can see the ocean — and even Catalina Island. It was important that this view corridor remained intact and that the site kept its integrity. From the beginning, preserving and protecting this view corridor was a high priority.

“We had a committee that included stake holders from the school, community, school board, etc., and getting a consensus on the design of the building was key,” said Bob Parish, assistant principal of Student Services at the school. “We didn’t want the view impeded upon too much, but the additional space was needed for our programs.”

According to Parish, the goal of the project was three-fold. First, the new building needed to provide upgraded, more spacious science labs. Second, it needed to give students an edge with modernization and high-tech teaching tools. Third, the building had to increase capacity for the entire campus, with additional classrooms that would eliminate the need for traveling teachers. “We tried to accommodate the students, to give them the best learning environment possible, and of course, the faculty as well,” adds Parish.

The finished project is stunning. It’s a two-story, 27,600-sq.-ft. building with space for 430 students in 16 classrooms — which include four science labs and two consumer science labs. A staff workroom and parking lot were also part of the finished scope.

“It’s been a great addition to the campus, and we couldn’t be happier with it,” says Parish. “Now, 89 teachers have a dedicated classroom, so it’s not as hard to maintain your learning environment. The new building has given us stability and the space we need to be more organized.”
So, what was learned throughout this process? Plenty.

Lesson 1: The process should be like designing a custom home.
After looking back at the experience, Parish compared it to building a custom home. “The LPA team was very open to staff suggestions,” comments Parish. With the care and attention given from the design team, the 40-person committee was able to learn about and select the perfect products for the new building. Various experts were brought in so that the committee could really be educated about which products would best meet their needs. Many of the products were very green, so they complimented a timeless design and sustainable solution for the campus by nature.

“The aesthetics have had a huge and positive impact on students,” says Parish. “It has completely energized the tone of our campus… our students are very proud of the building and everyone wants to be in one of the new classrooms.”

Because modernization was a priority, the group was also very interested in the newest technologies. They now have drop down screens, LCD projectors in every classroom, wireless setups, and mini computer-lab islands in the science labs so that students have greater access to information without having to leave the room. They can print from these islands as well. “Everything is dedicated to the learning process in that room,” says Parish. “When our budget gets better, we want LCD projectors on every wall. We are moving toward what you’d see in a corporate or university setting.”

Another concern the team was able to address was the blending of the new building with the existing campus, built in 1984. Architects took the datum lines of the existing tilt up concrete buildings and gave the expansion a similar, yet updated look. “Brea was very lucky and smart in terms of their site planning,” explains Lindsay Hayward, project designer for LPA Inc. “As mentioned, the site was initially an athletic practice field that had been set aside for future expansion. The ideal orientation was a gift, allowing us to create an efficient building envelope with lots of natural daylight — which makes for a great learning environment.” Even patterns used on the old buildings were incorporated into the new.

When clients bring specific needs to the table, everything is done to provide solutions for them and every decision is made with the design concept in mind. “Everything our designers did only enhanced the site, they didn’t take anything away,” said Parish.

Lesson 2: Hire a good design team and trust them.
Another highlight and lesson learned from the expansion concerns communication and trust. Good communication on the front end means fewer change orders on the back end. Choose a project team that will truly listen to and absorb the expectations of your administrative team, and you’ll be much happier with the finished product. Plus, you’ll save yourself all kinds of unnecessary hassle and stress.

“We’ve had very few issues after the fact, and when there was something, it was addressed and resolved in a quick and efficient manner,” says Parish. “We feel very lucky. I know other schools haven't had it as good.”

This leads us back to our original discussion about CHPS and LEED for Schools certifications. With the right team, building a green school will not increase your budget. In fact, many of the sustainable features used are energy efficient, as we’ll discuss in Lesson 3.

“Sustainable solutions don’t have to be expensive and illustrating this to a client is one of the first challenges we usually have, although this wasn’t the case with Brea,” recalls Hayward. “They were really fantastic to work with. They never really challenged our design suggestions, which were in accordance with CHPS. It was more about providing them with a site-and-program-specific, sustainable solution.”

Sustainable and energy efficient features abound at the expansion. A cool roof made of PVC single-ply membrane covers about 90 percent of the roof, while skylights account for the rest. Recycled content was used in the linoleum, restroom dividers, restroom tile, and counter surfaces. Low-emitting materials were also used, all of which worked well with the aesthetics of the facility.

“Students love the natural light in the building, and they seem to go in with a more positive outlook, which in turn enhances the learning experience,” said Parish.

Lesson 3: Efficiency always makes the grade.
Dr. Roland, assistant superintendent at the beginning of the design process, made sure the project team knew that energy efficiency was a priority for them. According to Parish, Roland wanted every aspect of the building to be as energy efficient as possible. Again, the design team took this to heart and created a building that performs 30 percent better than California’s stringent Title 24 requirements.

Strategies that allow the building to do this include a cool roof with PVC single-ply membrane, skylights, energy efficient insulation, and Solera glazing units, which draw daylight deeper into each space. Daylighting and occupancy sensors in every room make it easier for the building to consume less energy. Low-E glazing is utilized throughout, with mullion extensions to protect the south façade from solar heat gain.

And efficiency doesn’t stop there. “We start with conservation,” says Rogers, lead designer for Brea. “In every school, we strive to minimize the impact we have on the environment, conserve natural resources, reduce energy and water consumption, and generate less pollution and green house gas emissions.”

At Brea Olinda, both LPA and Bernards Construction, the contractor, designed and built with less. By building up and not out, the expansion at Brea uses less land than a scenario with two one-story buildings. Other points of efficiency are the flexible classroom designs that can easily be adapted to the teaching and learning needs of the future. As Parish mentioned earlier, classrooms were designed so that when budgets allow, LCD screens will be placed on every wall. A forward-thinking school provides a long life and a loose fit for its occupants.

Ultimately, it’s about campus enrichment that surpasses the expectations of everyone involved. Communication, collaboration, and listening skills are key. Rely on your design team for guidance and let them surprise you with beneficial opportunities, like CHPS. “The design worked out well for us,” finishes Parish. “I thought LPA and Bernards were wonderful. They really helped guide us through the process.”

Like the expansion at Brea, you want your school, addition, or retrofit to save money, operate efficiently, promote a sense of community on campus, and provide a healthy and comfortable environment for the learning process to transpire. Inspire students with classrooms that balance technology and sustainability, and excite them about the possibilities of college and/or careers.

 “In the end, we were able to provide a space for improved learning experiences and programs,” finishes Hayward. “This building was purpose-built for the client, and their site and the finished product has really energized the entire Brea Olinda campus.”

David Gilmore
is a managing principal for K-12 schools at California-based LPA Inc. He is a LEED-Accredited Professional, member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), and member of the Coalition for Adequate School Housing (CASH). He has worked on more than 100 schools during his 30-year career. Contact him at or visit