Savings By Design: McBride High School's Progressive Story

K-12 schools designer, Albert Lam, shares sustainable design secrets for Savings By Design award-winning McBride High School.A couple of weeks ago, I attended the AIA Orange County (AIAOC) design awards with my colleagues. I was there to enjoy a nice evening with my co-workers and to see the work produced by LPA and the many other fine firms in Orange County. Imagine my surprise when McBride High School—a project I’ve spent a large part of the past five years working on—walked away with not one but two AIAOC awards. Both of the awards—a Committee on the Environment (COTE) Citation Award and the Savings By Design (SBD) Award—are geared toward projects with exemplary sustainable design performance.

I’m pleased that McBride High has been acclaimed as an environmentally friendly and high performing school. Throughout the design and construction of this campus, our team at LPA has consistently focused on utilizing green design to craft a true 21st century learning center. As a result, McBride High has many features that address energy use, water management, indoor air quality and more—all to benefit the students and staff at the new Long Beach high school.

K-12 schools designer, Albert Lam, shares sustainable design secrets for Savings By Design award-winning McBride High School.For starters, the campus features a 277-kiloWatt, grid-tied photovoltaic (PV) system adhered into the standing seam metal roofing system on four of the seven buildings—comprising a large majority of the school’s roof area. These buildings were designed with sloping roofs that face south to maximize solar exposure throughout the year, and the low-maintenance, durable adhered PV panels are expected to generate more than half of the estimated site energy use. Through participation in California’s Savings By Design program, this design was able to net a rebate of more than a quarter million dollars—funds that can go back toward the school.

The PV grid is not the only attribute that helps the campus exceed California’s strict Title-24 energy standards by 40%. The school also has a high-efficiency, water-cooled central plant to engage ventilation, heating and conditioning economically. An Energy Management System synchronizes with the energy efficient lighting and HVAC to monitor classroom conditions and adjust illumination and ventilation to save energy. Operable windows allow natural air to enter the building and are tied to the mechanical system so that air conditioning is not wasted when the windows are open.

K-12 schools designer, Albert Lam, shares sustainable design secrets for Savings By Design award-winning McBride High School.Water management was also an important component from the beginning. Since the site is flat, stormwater management proved to be a challenge that had to be addressed early. The resulting design is a large lawn that acts as both an open park space for the neighborhood and a stormwater treatment area that filters rainwater and reduces discharge straight to the storm drain. Pervious pavers in the parking lot also allow water to percolate into the soil. Inside the buildings, low flow metered lavatories and toilet fixtures are prominent, helping to reduce water consumption by more than 40% beyond the baseline established by the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) standards.

As with any school, the most important spaces are inside—where students spend most of their time learning.We were cognizant of selecting low-VOC materials, providing natural ventilation and plenty of daylight, and treating wall, floor and ceiling surfaces to ensure optimal acoustical performance. In addition, during construction, 75% of construction waste was diverted from the landfill and sent to recycling.

K-12 schools designer, Albert Lam, shares sustainable design secrets for Savings By Design award-winning McBride High School.Finally, passive strategies were employed right from schematic design to make it easier to meet the high sustainability standards LPA strives for. Buildings are oriented in the east-west axis, minimizing solar exposure in the morning and afternoons, while overhangs protect against the southern exposure. The sloping of the roof, in addition to being advantageous for the installation of the PV system, also allows high windows on the north sides of the second floors, flooding classrooms with light and creating an airy, more welcoming space.

All of these tactics share a common bond—they were items brought up early during the design and woven in through an integrated design process among all architecture and engineering disciplines. They also had the support of a progressive school district that understands the demands of a 21st century educational environment. Through the design process, we communicated to the district the how green building strategies could impact learning and promote high scholastic performance. It took a good working relationship as well as LPA practicing what it preaches to produce this project, but if early returns are of any indication, the outcome will be quite rewarding.

Albert Lam is a Project Coordinator at California-based LPA Inc. He is a LEED accredited professional who specializes in the design and implementation of K-12 schools.

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