Prairie Crossing Charter School: Comfort as a Principal Component of High Performance School Design

Pat Dolan, Bill Sturm, Chris Wollmuth
2006 Journal of Green Building, College Publishing, USA  
INTRODUCTION The design and construction of sustainable buildings has had an evolving motivation. Initially, sustainable design was guided almost wholly by a desire of a few to minimize the environmental footprint of our buildings. Yet as sustainable design became better understood, the economic benefits of sustainable strategies have become an increasing motivation for many owners. For some, the focus is on the returns provided by decreased maintenance and operation costs, while for others the
more » ... increase in worker productivity-through decreased absenteeism, a reduction in errors, and overall gains in worker output-is beginning to drive the decision-making process. But when we are talking about an educational environment, we are not talking about workers producing, but instead are concerned about children learning. Yet the fundamental goal of each remains similar: by providing comfortable, healthy environments designers can remove the impediments to productivity or learning directly attributable to our built environment. If we think specifically about schools, careful consideration to comfort is even more important than in a commercial setting precisely because of the primary occupants. School-aged children have lower body masses and are, therefore, more susceptible to many of the factors addressed by the design: allergens being distributed or accumulated in a building, toxins being released by building materials, and unwanted changes in indoor air temperature. In addition, children are more susceptible to breaks in concentration caused by environmental factors like those named above as well as changes in noise levels or illumination. Such disruption directly affects students' ability to focus on and retain their lessons. So while there is a greater body of evidence focused on worker productivity in sustainable buildings, the most cost-effective green building strategies for schools should focus on maintaining the highest level of comfort for their primary occupants-children. By considering comfort, sustainable strategies can be employed that directly affect the learning of students. As registered architects and engineers, we are required to maintain basic human health and welfare in school design, but few of us use student comfort as an overriding design principle that crosses all facets of the project design. Prairie Crossing Charter School (PCCS), a new school in Grayslake, Illinois, was designed with just such a thought process. The school building is an addition to an existing campus and was programmed to include only classrooms (no offices, cafeteria, or gymnasium). The surrounding buildings include a historical one-room schoolhouse and a barn with grain silo set in a new housing development with styling modeled on traditional Midwest farmhouses. It is a community that values environmental protection and enhancement, a sense of place, and a sense of neighborhood. As such, they wanted their school to reflect those goals and aesthetics, while providing a premier learning environment for their children. The following outlines the specific goals identified as key to student comfort and the specific strategies used in pursuit of those goals.
doi:10.3992/jgb.1.3.17 fatcat:5tl5ncri7bcehbmjlpqmgvcluy