Leadership in School Construction: New Strategies for Reducing Costs

School districts from across the country are demanding that new school buildings be designed and con­struct­ed to deliver superior levels of per­for­mance while also providing the most energy‑e cient, safe and e ective learning spaces possible – all within a strict budget. Under increas­ing pressure to rein in costs, meet new, more stringent building codes and reduce their envi­ron­men­tal footprint, school districts are now at the forefront of a growing trend of energy- e cient and sus­tain­able con­struc­tion practices.

This paper will look at the design objec­tives, con­struc­tion practices and materials essential to building new schools that improve energy effi­cien­cy while creating safer, quieter and more pro­duc­tive learning and social envi­ron­ments. It will also explain how insulated concrete block will not only provide signi cant energy con­ser­va­tion, but will also create more com­fort­able and pro­duc­tive learning spaces with extra­or­di­nary levels of re and storm pro­tec­tion for school buildings.

Districts are raising their standards for efficient systems. The building envelope is a major factor because energy codes are becoming stricter. Using the right building materials, like insulated concrete block, is key to con­struct­ing a better building envelope.


From the post-World War II years until the 2000s, energy effi­cien­cy and quality of learning spaces was often an after­thought in the design and con­struc­tion of new schools.

The post-war baby boom led to a surge of K‑12 school building con­struc­tion with more than $20 billion spent on new schools from 1949 through 19641. The emphasis of school districts during this period was to build strong, solid, durable struc­tures that were func­tion­al, afford­able and could be con­struct­ed quickly enough to meet the demand of rapidly growing com­mu­ni­ties with hundreds of thousands of new ele­men­tary, middle and high school students.

This also marked the rst time that modern HVAC systems were incor­po­rat­ed into the design and con­struc­tion of school buildings to provide air con­di­tion­ing in areas of the country where hot weather lasted well into the school year. Neither the buildings nor the HVAC systems installed to serve them were very effective at con­serv­ing energy, but it wasn’t a problem, since the energy options available were abundant and a ordable.

In the last 10 – 15 years, however, school districts have become increas­ing­ly committed to making energy con­ser­va­tion and effi­cien­cy – and the sizeable and sustained cost savings that accompany energy- e cient con­struc­tion – a higher priority than ever before. Archi­tects, engineers and con­struc­tion rms that con­cen­trate on school facil­i­ties have been striving to raise the bar for energy effi­cien­cy ever since.

Today, there is a new building boom of school con­struc­tion, espe­cial­ly across the Sun Belt area of the U.S. where pop­u­la­tions are exploding at a record pace. The design and con­struc­tion of these schools will impact multiple gen­er­a­tions of students, teachers, admin­is­tra­tors and communities.

Where new school con­struc­tion used to focus exclu­sive­ly on cost and dura­bil­i­ty, today there are multiple issues of equal merit, including immediate and lifetime operating costs, indoor envi­ron­men­tal quality, noise mit­i­ga­tion, re and storm safety, and creating the best learning and working envi­ron­ment for every student, teacher and sta member who will ever spend time in the building.

Even as new building codes demand unprece­dent­ed levels of energy effi­cien­cy, many schools continue to be con­struct­ed in very much the same manner that they were during the post-war building boom. The solutions” imple­ment­ed to increase energy effi­cien­cy are often just adding more and more layers of materials over existing building systems in an e ort to create a better insulated and higher per­form­ing building. Yet adding addi­tion­al layers of materials requires more complex design and con­struc­tion sequenc­ing, and increases costs for the added materials and labor.

Before moving forward with the design and con­struc­tion of this next wave of school buildings, archi­tects, builders and school district admin­is­tra­tors should recon­sid­er which materials will be most effective in con­struct­ing energy-efficient, high-per­for­mance schools. They should compare tra­di­tion­al building materials with more inte­grat­ed building products and systems that can meet, and even exceed the demands of new codes, while reducing the cost and com­plex­i­ty of con­struc­tion. Under­stand­ing these options is critical to ensuring that school district admin­is­tra­tors can make informed decisions that will impact their respec­tive com­mu­ni­ties for the better part of this century.


New schools require designs and building materials that meet the standards of today – and tomorrow.

In 2015, school district admin­is­tra­tors know that the choices they make today regarding the design and con­struc­tion of a school will have a long-term economic and envi­ron­men­tal impact that could easily last 30, 40 or 50 years. That’s why energy effi­cien­cy is o en among the top criteria of planning for a new school.2

Energy-efficient design starts with archi­tects that make the best use of the space available and take into account every oppor­tu­ni­ty to minimize or maximize heat gain through building ori­en­ta­tion and envelope design in order to take advantage of local climate and weather. This includes min­i­miz­ing east- and west-facing glazing to reduce heat loads on a building, and using e ective natural day­light­ing through the incor­po­ra­tion of north- facing cleresto­ry windows or south-facing windows with proper shading to limit the need for lighting and reduce elec­tric­i­ty costs. Properly designed shading over south-facing windows will also allow for heat gain during winter months to further reduce the need for mechan­i­cal heating.

Another major decision centers on the struc­tur­al and envelope systems and building materials, which, in most cases, are inter­de­pen­dent. A number of criteria should be con­sid­ered in selecting these systems and the materials used in the con­struc­tion of a new school, including: rst costs of con­struc­tion; long-term operating costs; occupant comfort and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty; occupant health and safety; and sustainability.

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 in ltration 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.

IMPROVED LEARNING ENVIRONMENT: Research has proven that lighting, air quality and noise levels all have a mea­sur­able impact on student achieve­ment. 3 Indoor envi­ron­ments designed for optimum levels of enjoyment and learning pro­duc­tiv­i­ty are con­struct­ed to provide a number of important bene ts. These include clean air through­out the building, year-round thermal comfort, noise mit­i­ga­tion and natural day­light­ing. In order to achieve this high level of per­for­mance, buildings must be air tight with engi­neered HVAC systems and mechan­i­cal­ly filtered ven­ti­la­tion that virtually elim­i­nates outside pol­lu­tants and allergens. Proper building ori­en­ta­tion manages natural light to minimize heating and cooling loads year round.

HEALTH & SAFETY: Healthy schools are clean, quiet, dry, free of dust and par­tic­u­lates, and have good indoor air quality. 4 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 sta . From a safety per­spec­tive, these buildings should use materials that are re resistant and can provide storm safety that far exceeds standards. This is espe­cial­ly important in areas along the coastline or where tornadoes are common.

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


Modifying existing building systems to achieve high per­for­mance standards is too often a difficult and costly compromise.

School districts are asking much more from new school buildings than ever before. Building codes are also requiring better per­for­mance with respect to energy effi­cien­cy and life safety. For these reasons, school districts are looking for materials that are more energy efficient, more sus­tain­able (espe­cial­ly as might apply to LEED projects), easier to install, more func­tion­al, more reliable and durable and more cost-effective than in the past. This includes products that provide higher R‑value insu­la­tion and create thermal breaks.5

This has chal­lenged archi­tects, con­trac­tors and building materials man­u­fac­tur­ers to modify their building designs, con­struc­tion methods and materials specifications.

The natural response to these new criteria has been to modify or add to the tra­di­tion­al materials and system designs in order to provide the addi­tion­al per­for­mance required. Rather than start with a new system, the archi­tec­ture-engi­neer­ing-con­struc­tion industry has found it easier to simply stick with what they have always done and attempt to make modi cations to meet the new, highly evolved per­for­mance goals.

For wall systems in par­tic­u­lar, this has meant adding multiple layers of materials to meet each of the indi­vid­ual objec­tives. The two most common wall systems used in the con­struc­tion of school buildings have been concrete masonry and struc­tur­al steel with light-gauge framing.

The challenge for these systems has been address­ing the insu­la­tion and air tightness required to meet the new energy effi­cien­cy goals, while also avoiding re and life-safety concerns intro­duced by the addi­tion­al insu­lat­ing and air barrier materials. Adding layers to both of these tra­di­tion­al systems has intro­duced more com­plex­i­ty in designing the details of a wall system, espe­cial­ly at window and door openings, con­nec­tions to other building elements, and inte­gra­tion with exterior nishes. These more complex designs have also increased the amount of time and money it takes to construct a school building. More layers of material means more trades on a job site, more coor­di­na­tion issues as each trade attempts to accom­plish their scope of work, and more labor required overall to get the job done. Adding layers of materials to increase energy effi­cien­cy results in chal­leng­ing many con­trac­tors’ budgets and schedules.

The hierarchy of needs has focused the attention of design and con­struc­tion pro­fes­sion­als on meeting changing building codes rst. Wall component man­u­fac­tur­ers have responded by providing code-compliant accessory materials that can be added to masonry and steel frame wall con­struc­tion. However, many of the options stop at minimum code com­pli­ance with respect to energy effi­cien­cy and air tightness, and do not signi cantly improve the per­for­mance of the building from the per­spec­tive of re safety, storm safety and long-term sustainability.

Design teams should consider the following points when eval­u­at­ing modi cations to existing wall systems like concrete masonry and steel con­struc­tion for school building projects.

(See Table 1.1 at bottom for summary):

FIRST COSTS: Both concrete masonry and struc­tur­al steel with light-gauge framing require addi­tion­al insu­la­tion and air barrier layers, and in some cases, multiple insu­lat­ing materials in an assembly. While these tra­di­tion­al systems have been rel­a­tive­ly cost e ective to date, the increased number of materials and trades involved in providing a complete wall system today has made con­struc­tion slower, more complex and more costly. Speed of con­struc­tion and increased labor costs are signi cant chal­lenges for these wall systems.

OPERATING COSTS: Both systems can be designed to meet the current energy codes, but are expensive in regard to achieving signi cantly higher per­for­mance than code requires. Cost of main­te­nance and repair for concrete masonry is good, however light­weight steel framing and cavity wall designs are still chal­lenged in the long term with mold, rot and overall dura­bil­i­ty issues.

IMPROVED LEARNING ENVIRONMENT: With proper insu­la­tion and air barrier design, both systems can provide a rea­son­able level of air tightness and energy effi­cien­cy. However, it may be more di cult to achieve optimal per­for­mance from the steel cavity wall con­struc­tion. Concrete masonry can provide better potential thermal comfort and noise reduction than steel con­struc­tion, thanks to the insu­la­tion and thermal mass of the wall.

HEALTH & SAFETY: Again, with proper air barrier and sealant design and con­struc­tion, both systems can provide a rea­son­able level of air tightness to reduce the in ltration of allergens and pol­lu­tants into class­rooms. However, cavity wall con­struc­tion is much more sus­cep­ti­ble to mold and rot which can be com­pound­ed by more airtight buildings. For both systems, re ignition barriers must be installed over the insu­la­tion if its com­bustible. Concrete masonry can only provide major storm pro­tec­tion when fully grouted. Steel con­struc­tion is not normally rated for windstorm protection.

SUSTAINABILITY: For both systems, it can be costly to achieve more than code-compliant levels of energy effi­cien­cy, but signi cantly harder for steel con­struc­tion than masonry. Masonry walls also con­tribute signi cant weight of material to a project, while steel con­struc­tion requires many different materials to complete an assembly. Neither system provides any signi cant amount of recycled materials.

In most cases, masonry may be a locally produced product. Building life cycles are usually good with masonry con­struc­tion, yet only modest with struc­tur­al steel.


Energy-efficient insulated concrete block provides immediate and long-term benefits to new school buildings.

Schools spend more on energy than on any other expense except personnel.6 Con­struct­ing an energy- e cient school is one of the best invest­ments a school district can make. The key to that invest­ment is building a school with materials that conserve energy, reduce costs and provide a cleaner, more com­fort­able envi­ron­ment for students, teachers and staff.

Con­struct­ing a better building envelope is critical to building a school that achieves these goals, meets new code require­ments and reduces operating costs. A better building envelope starts with insulated concrete block.

Energy effi­cien­cy in a new school starts with the building envelope. Insulated concrete block is bridging the gap in providing a con­tin­u­ous insu­la­tion solution that can be con­struct­ed as a single solution instead of a series of systems. This stream­lines the process, reduces costs for con­struc­tion, and will provide great cost savings every year as long as the school is in use.”— Manuel H. Garza, Project Manager, LEED AP Pfluger Architects

Bautex Block is an insulated concrete block used to construct schools and com­mer­cial buildings that provides thermal and sound insu­la­tion that exceeds current building codes, improves comfort and air quality, and delivers excep­tion­al fire and storm safety – all while offering sig­nif­i­cant year-over-year cost- savings to the school district that by saving millions of dollars over the life of the building.

Bautex Block is a light­weight, modular and mor­tar­less wall system where blocks are stacked and then lled with rein­forced concrete to create an insulated struc­tur­al wall. The wall system is con­struct­ed using the same labor, tools and tech­niques as those used in tra­di­tion­al concrete masonry con­struc­tion. Plumbing and elec­tri­cal systems are typically added a er the walls are constructed.

The Bautex Block is changing the way new schools are built today, and how those schools will benefit their com­mu­ni­ties for the next 40 – 50 years. From increas­ing energy effi­cien­cy and reducing the carbon footprint to providing a cleaner, healthier and safer learning envi­ron­ment, Bautex Block will set the standard for building materials used to construct schools. Most impor­tant­ly, the amount of money saved from reducing oper­a­tional costs will be enormous over the lifetime of the building.”

— David Sterne, VP Sales and Business Devel­op­ment Bautex Systems

The result is a simply con­struct­ed, single, inte­grat­ed wall assembly that creates an airtight, con­tin­u­ous­ly insulated building envelope that provides sub­stan­tial­ly higher levels of per­for­mance and safety. Design teams should consider the following points when eval­u­at­ing Bautex Block for school building projects.

(See Table 1.1 on last page for summary):

FIRST COSTS: Speed and ease of con­struc­tion are the primary benefits of con­struct­ing with Bautex Block, which provides better building per­for­mance in a single, inte­grat­ed assembly. The large, light­weight blocks are stacked quickly without mortar and are installed by a single trade using less- skilled labor than other tra­di­tion­al wall systems. Overall cost of instal­la­tion is com­pet­i­tive, but the savings in project timeline can be significant.

OPERATING COSTS: Bautex Block is an energy‑e cient R‑14 con­tin­u­ous­ly insulated mass wall that exceeds the 2015 IECC energy codes for climate zones 1 through 6 by as much as 246%7. The system is very durable with proper nishes and is not sus­cep­ti­ble to mold, rot or degra­da­tion in per­for­mance. With Bautex Block, no addi­tion­al main­te­nance is required over time.

IMPROVED LEARNING ENVIRONMENT: With the instal­la­tion of a fluid-applied air and moisture barrier, Bautex Block walls provide demon­stra­bly higher levels of air tightness and energy effi­cien­cy. Con­tin­u­ous insu­la­tion and thermal mass also con­tribute to a stable and com­fort­able indoor tem­per­a­ture and high noise reduction.

HEALTH & SAFETY: The air and moisture barrier typically installed with the Bautex Block system helps to eliminate pol­lu­tants and allergens from infil­trat­ing the classroom envi­ron­ment. The system also provides one of the highest re safety ratings of any wall system, and meets FEMA standards for hurricane and tornado safe room construction.

SUSTAINABILITY: Bautex Blocks are excep­tion­al­ly e cient in the use of materials and utilize 28% recycled materials by weight. For projects in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, design teams can take advantage of pur­chas­ing local and regional materials. Due to the longevity of concrete con­struc­tion, buildings that use insulated concrete block like Bautex Block can expe­ri­ence long lifecycles.

Some school districts also mandate LEED for Schools (http://​www​.usgbc​.org/​l​e​e​d​/​r​a​t​i​n​g​-​s​y​s​tems/ schools) to emphasize per­for­mance and sus­tain­abil­i­ty. The desired e ect of building to meet or exceed codes, such as LEED®, is to improve energy effi­cien­cies and maximize sus­tain­able building practices.

Schools con­struct­ed with Bautex Block exceed current energy-effi­cien­cy codes mandated by local or regional author­i­ties in most climate zones in the U.S., and can con­tribute to many of the sus­tain­abil­i­ty goals for voluntary programs like LEED.

Facility directors who run the buildings are more aware and con­sci­en­tious of energy effi­cien­cy now than ever before. Districts are raising their standards for e cient systems. The building envelope is a major factor because of rising energy costs and stricter energy-related codes. Using the right building materials, like insulated concrete block, is key to con­struct­ing a better building envelope.”

—James Helm, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Principal Randall-Porter­field Archi­tects, Inc.



Building the most energy-efficient, safe and effective learning spaces possible is espe­cial­ly chal­leng­ing in an envi­ron­ment of increas­ing­ly con­strained budgets, but school district admin­is­tra­tors and design pro­fes­sion­als need to consider the once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties that come with planning and building a high-per­for­mance school for their community. The millions of dollars a school saves from greatly reduced energy con­sump­tion can directed toward other high-priority needs, such as teachers, tech­nol­o­gy and more academic programs.

Increas­ing building per­for­mance through incre­men­tal changes to tra­di­tion­al building systems should be evaluated on whether these ad-hoc solutions genuinely meet all of the per­for­mance goals that admin­is­tra­tors seek, while also taking into account any potential tradeo s such as speed of con­struc­tion, life safety, initial and long-term cost, and creating the best learning envi­ron­ments for students over the life of the building.

Watch Bautex Systems video on how its wall system using Bautex Block can withstand storms. http://​bit​.ly/​1​I​zDTEe

Watch Bautex Systems video on how its wall system using Bautex Block can provide four-hour re resis­tance. http://​bit​.ly/​1​O​Y4RcD

Read Bautex Systems Energy Effi­cien­cy Case Study and nd out how a high- per­for­mance building can be con­struct­ed quickly and cost-effec­tive­ly while providing decades of extreme energy effi­cien­cy and cost-savings. http://​bit​.ly/​1​W​9ab2j

1 National Council on Schoolhouse Construction, 1964
2 Texas Green Schools: More than just a passing trend. http://​docslide​.us/​d​o​c​u​m​e​n​t​s​/​t​e​x​a​s​-​g​r​e​e​n​-​s​c​h​o​o​l​s​-​m​o​r​e​-​t​h​a​n​-​j​u​s​t​-​a​-​p​a​s​s​i​n​g​-​t​r​e​n​d​-​c​-​d​e​n​i​s​e​-​shaw-
3 Center for Innovative School Facilities
4 School Planning and Management, Creating Healthy Schools http://​webspm​.com/​A​r​t​i​c​l​e​s​/​2014​/​03​/​01​/​C​r​e​a​t​i​n​g​-​H​e​a​l​t​h​y​-​S​c​h​o​o​l​s​.aspx
5 School Planning and Management, Pleasing and Green http://​webspm​.com/​A​r​t​i​c​l​e​s​/​2014​/​03​/​01​/​B​u​i​l​d​i​n​g​-​P​r​o​d​u​c​t​s​-​M​a​t​e​r​i​a​l​s​.aspx
6 Green Your School from U.S. Department of Energy http://​energy​.gov/​e​e​r​e​/​e​d​u​c​a​t​i​o​n​/​g​r​e​e​n​-​y​o​u​r​-​s​chool
72015 International Energy Conservation Code, Table C402.2, Opaque Thermal Envelope Requirements (Zone 1& 2 require R‑5.7 continuous insulation for mass walls).