Spotlight on Sustainable Learning Facilities

Sustainability has long been a topic of conversation, and focus of innovation for K12 districts around the country. School Planning & Management asked Christos Chrysiliou, director of Architectural & Engineering Services for the Los Angeles Unified School District, some questions about sustainable learning environments—a topic he is well versed in.

Q. Green and sustainable schools have been the standard for a while. What are some new and innovative features that are helping modern facilities to be greener than in previous years?

A. Developing healthy, sustainable learning environments have always been our goal. Some new innovative features that help modern facilities be more sustainable are automated smart systems that provide the occupant current conditions and health benefits of their surrounding environment, as well as provide them with the knowledge and understanding of such features. For example, occupants will know the indoor air quality of a space, the water quality, the lighting conditions, thermal comfort, and they can be adjusted based on occupant preferences. 

Systems that provide eco-literacy can help the occupants make smarter choices as they relate to the sustainability, while measuring the carbon footprints, based on the choices made. Some other innovative features include solar panel installation, with battery storage that must always be measured with the highest energy efficiency strategies. Future goals should include achieving zero-net energy, as well as active restoration of our natural environment.

Q. What are some overlooked elements of architecture and engineering that can make a school facility more sustainable?

A. It’s important to include the stakeholders and users, and incorporate natural sustainable physical elements in the planning and design process. For example, building orientation, daylighting, ventilation, mass, envelope, and surroundings are some of the characteristics that are, unfortunately, overlooked. Creating or incorporating natural elements in our designs helps promote healthy learning environments.

Q. Are there any ways to get students and staff involved in making a facility sustainable, or using it as a teaching tool?

A. Yes! There are many ways to make a facility sustainable by involving students and faculty. By promoting eco-literacy through the understanding and usage of building systems, the occupants can better appreciate their environment. By teaching concepts of sustainability and high-performance design, including energy efficiency analysis, building envelope, lighting control systems, etc., we can apply STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) as part of the school curriculum. We can also empower our students and faculty with the knowledge and understanding of the built environment by providing them the opportunity to be a part of the design we developed with environmental stewardship. This will help prepare them for future careers.