Sustainability in Action

When the Boerne ISD (Texas) School Board hired the design team of OCO Architects and Pfluger Associates to design new schools and renovate existing schools for a $99-million bond issue in 2004, it came with the charge to do whatever could be done to construct the projects within the budgets to follow sustainable principles. Mark Oppelt AIA, REFP, LEED-AP, and Kent Niemann, AIA, the Principals in Charge for OCO and Pfluger, respectively, were used to these types of challenges with Boerne ISD. They had successfully completed bond issue projects for the district in several previous bond issues dating back over 15 years.

This challenge seemed more difficult, however, in that the construction economy in this part of Texas in 2005-2006 had overheated because of Hurricane Katrina and other factors that resulted in double-digit construction inflation for several years. So, the need to be creative in using sustainable tactics in designing the school took on a new dimension for the designers. In addition to being sustainable, we also had to become cost-effective. Fortunately, the owner/design/construction teams worked together to effectively control costs and still build in construction features that continue to pay back dividends to the school district.

The program for the Samuel V. Champion High School includes an academic wing that features 46 new conventional classrooms, 10 science lecture lab classrooms, 25 special-use classrooms, computer and other labs, and practice areas for career and technology and fine arts portions of the curriculum. The academic wing also includes a library/media center that has the ability to be accessed after hours by the public and a 995-seat auditorium with stage, full fly loft and audio visual systems. Finally, the academic building includes a new cafeteria with a scatter-area serving system that can accommodate 850 students.

The P.E. and athletics requirements for the school is accommodated by a separate facility that features two large gymnasiums — one that seats 1,000 and one that seats 250 people, and includes locker rooms, concessions, a large coed weight room with after-hours access, storage and athletic coach offices.

The board also expressed the desire to provide a unique and stimulating learning environment that stirred the students’ desire to know more about sustainability.

Selecting the Right Site
Site selection was the first step in achieving a sustainable and remarkable school. Oppelt immediately recognized the value of the site selected by the school board because its features would allow it to become an outstanding location for not just one sustainable school but two schools — a new 900-student K-6 elementary school and the new 1,750-student 9-12 high school.

The site straddles Brown’s Creek, 
which is a tributary to the environmentally sensitive Cibolo Creek. It also is located next to the Cibolo Nature Center, which was dedicated to the education of the public to the environment, allowing them to become a partner in education for students of natural and environmental sciences.

The site included two natural features that became prominent sustainable features — a natural limestone outcropping that was mined and milled on site to provide the school with a stable foundation and, within the seams of limestone rock, was the capability for ground bearing springs that became recharge features for the water harvesting system designed to provide landscape irrigation for the school.

Athletic fields were located across Brown’s Creek from the school buildings, and a bridge connects and controls the crowds headed for the athletic complex.

Both new buildings were sited within an open meadow between the hundreds of live oak trees that dotted the site. The building pad for the foundation was constructed of crushed limestone excavated from beneath the new football field and the deep topsoil from beneath the building was used as topsoil for the football field. Steel reinforcement for the concrete contained a very high percentage of recycled steel material. The structural concrete was allowed to contain fly ash, an industrial byproduct. Juniper trees, an undesirable pioneer species known for removing ground water were harvested on site and mulched to provide ground cover in outlying areas.

Water Conservation
The site landscaping and irrigation also became the subject of the most sweeping sustainable feature — an oversized storm drain that created an underground storage system for rainwater that holds over 200,000 gallons of water to be used in irrigating the landscaping and playing fields on the campus.

The rainwater storage system captures roof runoff, parking lot runoff, HVAC condensate and even underground spring flow during wet years. This unique system of pumps and storage allows the district to maintain safe and attractive turf and landscaping even during times of drought and water restrictions in Kendall County. The iconic “water tank” at the main entry also supplements the storage system and provides an eye catching feature that signals to the taxpayers that Boerne ISD wants to be a sustainable member of the community.

The Buildings

Building systems are also a focus of sustainable efforts. The exterior walls were poured using concrete with a high-recycle content in a “tilt up” concept borrowed from local commercial construction. These walls provide not only the exterior envelope, but also the structural support for the roof. The roof membrane is white to provide 
a reflective surface and radiant heat barrier. The walls and roof have higher than normal R values due to thicker insulation. Classrooms are oriented to take advantage of natural daylight with the majority of the conventional classrooms containing one or two exterior windows. The exterior glazing is high-performance, double-insulated low-e glass.

The interior finishes of the school feature natural materials that bring warmth to the learning environment without additional cost. This includes the use of polished and waxed concrete floors and naturally finished plywood panel in many locations. Low-flow plumbing fixtures are used to minimize domestic water. Highly efficient roof-mounted, large-volume, variable-frequency-drive air conditioning compressors and fan units provide medium velocity air to variable air volume dampers with motors that modulate the air temperature for every single classroom individually.

The auditorium and cafeteria share a air cooled chiller and four-pipe chilled water system to provide cooling for either the auditorium or cafeteria at one time. The entire HVAC system is controlled by a state-of-the-art digital data control that gives the building manager the ability to monitor and even diagnose the HVAC system via Internet connection. The electrical system features high-performance, low-energy-use fluorescent light fixtures and multilevel light capacity.

The school also boasts of a state-of-the-art security system featuring 65 cameras, access control and monitoring for most exterior doors. Each classroom, lab and teaching space has fully configured teaching stations with computers and the ability to add six student computers in each room. Wireless Internet access is available throughout the interior and exterior of the campus.

The result of the team effort is a school that is uniquely designed for Boerne, Texas, and 21st-century education. The school was awarded the prestigious “Caudill Award” by the Texas Education Agency, the American Institute of Architects and the Council of Educational Facility Planners. 

Mark Oppelt, AIA, LEED-AP, REFP
 is a princial at OCO Architects. He can be reached at [email protected].