Cool Schools: Most Innovative School & University Buildings   By ARC Facilities

Cool Schools: Most Innovative School & University Buildings
By ARC Facilities

Innovative learning centers are springing up across the country bringing new ideas for design, sustainability, energy efficiency, and helping the next generation learn more about taking care of people and the planet. These responsibilities fall under the purview of facilities management teams and are key themes addressed by the International Facility Management Association (IFMA).

Starting in Colorado, a major research center for sustainable building technology has been founded at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The Building Energy Smart Technologies (BEST) Center is a new, five-year multi-university initiative funded by the National Science Foundation to advance sustainable building projects ranging from HVAC to manufacturing, to smart glazing for windows, building controls, insulation, as well as solar installations.

Meanwhile in the Midwest, innovative schools are blossoming, according to Bradley Fisher from Henricksen, a commercial furniture and architectural products dealership based outside of Chicago, Illinois that does quite a bit of work in K12 and Higher Ed across the country.

"School, college, and university projects are a long-term investment of public dollars. These projects must be thoughtfully planned, designed, and executed to transition from a beautiful concept to a well-managed and supportive educational facility for educators, their students, and the community,” said Fisher.

The Beloit College Powerhouse Building in Beloit, Wisconsin is an example of an adaptive re-use of a decommissioned powerplant and the expansion of a fieldhouse. The building was designed to enhance student experiences, their well-being, including a dynamic environment for a range of student activities from studying to meeting to relaxing or exercising. Incorporating such details helps facilities teams improve the student/staff experience.

“Opening in the spring 2020 semester posed challenges to the execution of our vision. It also ended up being a blessing to have a large, airy, building that can circulate 100% fresh air every 24 hours. The building is such an anachronistic blend of new technology and old features from the original terracotta tiles floors and brick walls to our cutting edge "river-thermal" system. We are occasionally battling both the challenge of the unknown with our new features and how to remedy issues due to aging, such as a leaky roof and unexpected entrance and exit conventions with conforming an old building to current codes,” said Tara Girard, Associate Dean for Recreation, Wellness and Engagement, Beloit College.

She added, “When our former Dean of Students was leading the project, she invited students into the building and asked them to put post-it notes on the cool stuff that they thought we should keep. That is how the decisions were made regarding which industrial elements to preserve and refurbish and which to remove from the building. The coal hoppers, instrument panels and giant intake pipes were some of the retained elements.”

Verona High School in Verona, Wisconsin is a newly constructed high school built using referendum dollars. A vision for progressive learning and work environments that consider light, color, material, and forward-thinking design was part of the design plan. The school is adaptable to accommodate future growth and the evolution of teaching and learning strategies. There are a variety of spaces to support innovation, collaborative thinking, inspire creativity, self-discovery, and exploration. The building was created to be responsive to the natural environment and maximize daylight in learning spaces.

It will be interesting to see how facility managers adapt and deal with equipment maintenance and student safety.

“Schools and colleges are in a challenging situation when it comes to maintaining legacy equipment alongside new technology. FM’s must have the knowledge to work on things like pneumatic controls but also be able to utilize controls software to do basic diagnostics on new HVAC equipment,” said Samantha Howell, EMCOR Services Fagan. “The people who have experience on the older equipment have a hard time grasping the new technology, and the people with less experience gravitate to the technology but have no idea how to work on older types of equipment. This becomes even harder when you have a building that has three phases of construction, three types of HVAC systems and three types of controls.”

Everyone benefits from these innovative and modern campus buildings. Students and teachers walking into cool schools appreciate having quiet places to study and the comfort of efficient heating and cooling. Parents and staff appreciate heightened security and safety. Facility managers have more control and data to make better decisions about managing the building.

The community benefits from having a modern structure in the neighborhood include increased security, and an overall feeling that district and campus leaders are committed to not just education but a greener future.

For a look at one of the most innovative and sustainable facility environments, we’ve ever encountered, read this interview with Nico Viola, from Holden Forests & Gardens.

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