Re-Inventing School

The new Colonel Smith Middle School at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., will, when completed, illustrate how today’s technologies can improve the design of K-12 schools.

“Technology is leading to a sea change in the design of schools,” says Chuck Tyler, principal and project manager for the Colonel Smith Middle School from the Indianapolis offices of the Celina, Ohio-based Fanning Howey. Fanning Howey served as Associate Architect on the project. Mesa, Ariz.-based Emc2 Group Architects Planners, PC, was the architect of record.

Three categories of technology have unleashed a transformational school design for the 101,000-square-foot Colonel Smith Middle School — part of the Fort Huachuca Accommodation School District.

Three Categories of Technology
Modern K-12 school designs can take advantage of three different technologies that give schools forward-looking capabilities.

Administrative technologies such as cloud services, wireless hot spots and multifunction fax, scanning, printing and copying machines support teaching and learning.

Educational technologies such as interactive white boards, tablets, LCD monitors and other hardware and software provide teachers and students with new tools for teaching and learning.

Smart building technologies control lighting, heating, cooling and even security throughout a building, creating and maintaining a comfortable environment amenable to learning.

The Colonel Smith Middle School will employ technologies in each of these categories.

Administrative Challenges

The administration wants the building eventually to be paperless both educationally and administratively. A technology integration specialist employed by the district is planning that effort.

“Some schools today are centralizing document printing,” says Riyad Bannourah, director of Educational Technology with Fanning Howey. “They set up a few central printing stations, and teachers send print commands over the network. Later, they retrieve the materials.”

These stations use multifunction printing, copying, scanning and faxing devices that help promote paperless operations by making it more convenient to scan and print to a PDF file for electronic distribution to students with tablet computers.

Every Space a Learning Space
“Every student and teacher will have his or her own handheld tablet,” says Tony Wall, owner’s representative on the project from Scottsdale, Ariz.-based 3W Management, Inc. “Students, today, are growing up with these technologies, and they are comfortable with them.”

Tablet technology allows designers to change traditional classroom design.

“Think what untethering (with wireless tablets) means to the traditional classroom,” Tyler says. “If students carry a lightweight wireless tablet, they can go anywhere without losing touch with Internet resources, teachers and other students. That means classrooms are anywhere and everywhere.”

That idea has fueled the innovative design of the school. “The most important charge the district gave us was that every space is for learning,” continues Tyler. “As soon as students step onto the site, they begin learning.”

Indeed, as you step onto the site, the landscaping provides four carefully landscaped microclimates: mountain, desert, grassland and forest. Each attracts different kinds of wildlife. In this way, the design of the exterior of the school offers learning opportunities.

Inside the school, the designers have given various kinds of spaces new names. “Each grade level has four flexible learning stations arranged around a student collaboration area,” says Tyler.

Flexible learning stations represent the Colonel Smith Middle School version of a classroom. Emc2 Group literature describes these spaces as home base for approximately 24 students working with a teacher in small, medium and large groups.

Learning technologies in these transformed classrooms include interactive whiteboards (IWBs) for the sixth graders and LCD monitors for the seventh and eighth graders. “While the sixth grade IWB are fixed, we put the LCD monitors on mobile carts so you can move them wherever you want, gather small or large groups of students around them,” says Tyler.

The flexible learning stations, equipped with sliding glass doors, surround a student collaboration area equipped with tables and chairs that will accommodate two to four students — larger groups, if the tables are moved together. A large fixed LCD projection screen hangs from the front wall front of each collaboration area.

Below the screen stands a collaboration table with jacks for laptops and tablets. Students can gather at these spaces, plug their tablets into high-powered computers and display tablet screens on large monitors to aid discussions of group projects and presentations.

“We can also project streaming video to the big screen,” adds Wall. “This is the way we can use technology to address our global society. This school is on a military base, and students here can use streaming video to collaborate on projects with students from other bases around the world.”

Smart Building Technology
The Colonel Smith Middle School will rank as Arizona’s first net-zero energy building. In other words, it will produce its own energy to power, heat and cool the facility.

The building design helps in that effort by reducing normal energy demand for a school facility of this size by 50 percent. Among the techniques used to make the building energy efficient is an aggressive natural daylighting design that will largely eliminate the need for electric lighting in instructional areas during the day. Windows, clerestories and skylights will provide the natural light.

When the lights must go on, efficient T5 fluorescent lamps and HID systems with dimming drivers kick in, and motion sensors will turn off the lights when spaces empty out.

Daylighting, plus the efficient artificial lighting, Emc2 Group estimates that energy required for lighting will be 80 percent lower than a standard school building.

The design also includes a 250kW ground-mounted solar photovoltaic assembly to provide electricity for lights and heating and cooling. Recovered energy from the locker room exhaust system helps pre-heat or pre-cool air coming into the locker room.

The mechanical system features variable air volume air handlers and highly efficient refrigerant cooling.
A roof mounted solar water-heating assembly supplements the hot water provided by 95 percent efficient natural gas boilers.

Windmills, mostly for educational purposes, also contribute some power to the facility.

In the student commons, an interactive touch screen displays current energy usage by the various systems as well as the contributions of solar and wind energy being made to the building’s operation.

Next Steps: Tying It All Together
Today, educational technologies tie the school network and Internet together with document management systems as paperless initiatives evolve.

The next step will integrate building controls for lights, heating, cooling, hot water and security.

“Right now, we’re developing 
technology for teachers to teach and 
students to learn,” Bannourah says. 
“We can’t afford to integrate building systems completely.”

But commercial buildings are doing it. So it is possible, and the time will come when schools will find it affordable.

“Unified communications and control systems tie room controls, building controls and security technology together with educational and administrative technologies,” says Joe Andrulis, vice president, Global Marketing with Richardson, Texas-based AMX, a control system manufacturer. “This creates new capabilities.”

For instance, what if the building’s access control security system also monitored online equipment, continues Andrulis. If a projector went off line, the access control system could report it. It might be a maintenance need or an attempted theft.

If it is a theft at night, the system could phone and email the principal at home. The principal could scan the school with the video surveillance system, call the police and even activate the PA system to talk to the intruder.

When a school is used for after-
hours meetings, a scheduling software could cluster the meetings in the same wing of the building and tell the lighting, heating and cooling systems to work in that wing of the building, but not in others.

It won’t be long until smarter buildings are making teachers smarter and students more successful. That’s how technology is helping to reinvent school.