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