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