Challenges of Building High-Performance Schools

From controlling costs to meeting code requirements, new hurdles in school construction

Where new school construction used to focus exclusively on cost and durability, today there are multiple issues of equal merit, which bring their own set of challenges to architects and builders. These include initial construction costs, lifetime operating costs, health and safety, sustainability, and creating the best learning and working environment for every student, teacher and staff member who will ever spend time in the building.

Let’s look at each of these challenges in more detail.

First Costs

Today, many designers are trying to get existing systems up to code by implementing multiple incremental changes, essentially adding insulation and air barrier layers to concrete masonry and steel structures. This approach increases both the cost and complexity of construction, while also creating new challenges, like slowing the speed of construction, which in turn, leads to higher building costs.

Operating Costs

Ensuring that a new building performs at peak efficiency starts with durable, quality construction that provides continuous insulation, thermal mass and air tightness. This requires a building envelope that eliminates air infiltration with no degradation in performance over time. It also means eradicating problems with moisture, mildew, mold, and rot. All of these factors contribute to reducing the costs of energy consumption, maintenance and repairs over the lifetime of the building.

Health & Safety

Healthy schools are clean, quiet, dry, free of dust and particulates, and have good indoor air quality. While air-tight construction and well-designed HVAC systems limit outside pollutants and allergens, new school buildings should also be constructed using materials that are not susceptible to mold and mildew growth that can lead to respiratory issues for students, teachers and staff. From a safety perspective, these buildings should use materials that are fire resistant and can provide storm safety that far exceeds standards. This is especially important in areas along the coastline or where tornadoes are common.


In order to reduce the environmental footprint of the new building, construction must include the use of energy-efficient materials, recycled materials and regional materials that all work together to ensure maximum performance and cost-savings during the entire lifespan of the building.

Improved Learning Environment

Research has proven that lighting, air quality and noise levels all have a measurable impact on student achievement. Indoor environments designed for optimum levels of enjoyment and learning productivity are constructed to provide a number of important benefits. These include clean air throughout the building, year-round thermal comfort, noise mitigation and natural daylighting.

Read more in our white paper, Leadership in School Construction: New Strategies for Reducing Costs While Improving Energy Efficiency and Comfort