Sustainable Natatorium/Aquatics Center Design – Part Four (Buy-in from the Beginning)

In a previous post, I discussed the importance of a goal-oriented collaborative design process that starts as early as possible. This is especially important when it comes to the sustainable aspirations of a construction project, whether it’s a new aquatics center or a cafeteria renovation.

Niles Township High School District 219’s emphasis on sustainability fueled planning and design of the Niles North Aquatics Center.

Niles Township High School District 219’s emphasis on sustainability fueled planning and design of the Niles North Aquatics Center.

Long before we began programming the Niles North High School Aquatics Center, Niles Township High School District 219 (D219) had made sustainable practices a priority. D219 had created a 5-year Plan to “supercharge the achievement of every student” at its two high schools. Part of the plan called for improving energy efficiency and reducing its environmental footprint.

So when it came time to discuss sustainable components of the Aquatics Center, it was full steam ahead. We explored sustainable strategies related to daylighting and water conservation in a design workshop that brought to the table community members, student athletes, coaches, architects, engineers, and construction professionals.

Smaller design workshops focused on the use of recycled and regionally sourced materials, as well as reviewing conceptual energy models to ensure that the design would be as efficient as possible. Pool facilities typically consume five times more energy than the average commercial building, so energy efficiency was a must.

The resulting design decreases the center’s energy use by 44% and water use by 42% compared to a typical aquatics center of similar size.

The author (center) presents the LEED Gold certification plaque to D219 representatives. From left: Board Vice President Dr. Sheri Doniger, Board Secretary Carlton Evans, Mike Maloney, Facilities Committee Chair Jeff Greenspan, and Ruth Klint.

The author (center) presents the LEED Gold certification plaque to D219 representatives. From left: Board Vice President Dr. Sheri Doniger, Board Secretary Carlton Evans, Mike Maloney, Facilities Committee Chair Jeff Greenspan, and Ruth Klint.

This winter, the Aquatics Center achieved LEED for Schools Gold certification from the US Green Building Council. The center became the country’s highest LEED rated facility of its kind. That’s a powerful testament to the importance of buy-in from the beginning.

Read my other aquatics center sustainability posts on using mindful massing, controlling natural light, saving water.


The Essentials of Early Learning Center Design – Part One (Indoor/Outdoor Connectivity)

Place influences . . . especially when it comes to early childhood education. The wisely planned and designed early learning center engages young minds at this pivotal time. It also helps educators plant the seeds for lifelong learning.

The design of early learning centers can boost learning at a critical developmental stage. Photo copyright André Benedix through creative commons.

The design of early learning centers can boost learning at a critical developmental stage. Photo copyright André Benedix through creative commons.

This post kicks off a series on some of the most important architectural elements of an early learning facility. These include connecting to nature, inspiring curiosity, encouraging interaction, and welcoming the community.

Indoor/Outdoor Connectivity

The ideal early learning center offers connectivity between the indoors and the outdoors. That means views to the outside and curriculum-responsive outdoor activities.

Outside views help stimulate young minds.

Outside views help stimulate young minds.

Many of today’s schools were built at a time when outside views were considered a distraction. A growing collection of research reveals the truth: Natural light and views to the outdoors relax the retina and improve cognitive retention.

What’s happening outside the early learning center? Here’s an opportunity to create outdoor settings that support the curriculum and engage young minds.

What’s happening outside the early learning center? Here’s an opportunity to create outdoor settings that support the curriculum and engage young minds.

The importance of connectivity extends to outdoor play areas. Ideally, an early learning center will have outdoor settings that go beyond standard play equipment to support continuous learning.

The Community Consolidated School District 59 Early Learning Center now under construction will have three thematic gardens: sensory, fine arts, and nature. The gardens allow students to learn in different settings and to engage in participation through play. For instance, students can make music on the xylophone wall in the fine arts garden, or help tend plantings in the nature garden.

Importantly, these gardens are not cordoned off on plots where students can’t see them. Rather, classrooms and corridors surround the gardens. The inside and the outside connect!


Sustainable Natatorium/Aquatics Center Design – Part Three (Use Mindful Massing)

The shape and size (i.e., massing) of an aquatics center not only create its image, but also affect energy consumption and light distribution.

The Niles North High School Aquatics Center introduces a dynamic form that welcomes the community.

The Niles North High School Aquatics Center introduces a dynamic form that welcomes the community.

One of the first things people notice about the Niles North High School Aquatics Center is its intriguing shape. Aesthetically, the dramatic curved form creates a sense of movement that reflects what’s happening on the inside. Additionally, at night, the translucent glass creates a glowing beacon to welcome the community to events.

The sloped roof reduces the volume of the aquatics center to lessen the demand on the mechanical systems. The result is lower energy bills.

The sloped roof reduces the volume of the aquatics center to lessen the demand on the mechanical systems. The result is lower energy bills.

The shape was a contributing factor in achieving the facility’s LEED Gold certification. On the north side, there is an eleven-foot-high mezzanine walkway that has about twenty feet of height clearance to the structure above. The tiered spectator seating even has a twelve-foot clearance at the highest row of seats. These heights were necessary to provide the code-required height for the three-meter diving and to provide a comfortable viewing environment for the spectators.

Athlete seating along the south wall didn’t require that height, so we lowered the height there to provide a twelve-foot clearance. This way, the heating and cooling systems don’t have to work as hard as they would if the entire ceiling was 31 feet.

Read my other aquatics center posts on controlling natural light and saving water.


Sustainable Natatorium/Aquatics Center Design – Part Two (Control Natural Light)

Poorly lit older pools are a common problem for school districts across the country. For years, incorporating the use of natural light in a natatorium simply wasn’t a priority. Schools wanted to build quickly and inexpensively; some pools were actually located within the basement.

Renovations brought much more natural light into Niles North High School’s 48-year-old pool.

Renovations brought much more natural light into Niles North High School’s 48-year-old pool.

A natatorium lacking in natural light is uninspiring to swimmers, unwelcoming to would-be spectators, and unfavorable to energy bills.

Natural light is now an essential part of the modern day sustainable aquatics center. The designer’s main challenge involves bringing in as much light as possible, while preventing the glare that can distract swimmers.

Niles North managed to transform its old dark pool into one of the country’s premier high school sustainable aquatics centers. Below are a few natural light design tips for districts considering natatorium projects, whether they involve renovating an old facility or building a new one.

Renovations
When Niles Township High School District 219 determined that it wanted its new Aquatics Center to be a model for sustainable natatorium design, one of the biggest challenges was what to do with the district’s half century old pool. The solution reveals a couple cost-effective techniques.

The design team eliminated the drop ceiling to regain the height of the space so that it lost the feeling of being in cave. Additionally, a new glass wall was installed to separate the old and new pools, while maintaining the feel of a cohesive aquatics center.

New Construction
When it comes to newer aquatics centers, the right combination of clear and translucent (i.e., frosted) glass can bring in the ideal amount of natural light throughout the year.

Designers tweaked translucent glass (back wall) and clear glass (sides) to maximize natural light for both athletes and spectators at the Niles North High School Aquatics Center. Photo courtesy Niles Township HSD 219.

Designers tweaked translucent glass (back wall) and clear glass (sides) to maximize natural light for both athletes and spectators at the Niles North High School Aquatics Center. Photo courtesy Niles Township HSD 219.

The Niles North Aquatics Center has translucent glass on the east and west walls, which take the biggest hit from direct sunlight. The translucent glass diffuses the sunlight, while preventing glare and excessive heat that would typically come with clear glass. Clear glass at the north allows natural light to wash over the spectators to provide an open, comfortable viewing environment. Clear glass at the south is protected by the roof overhang, which doesn’t allow the direct sunlight into the space to impede the swimmers or spectators.

Next time, I’ll discuss how a natatorium’s massing (i.e., size and shape) affect its sustainable performance.


It’s Time to Shelve the Traditional Library

What do you remember about your elementary or high school library? If you’re anything like me, you remember dull colors, cubicles, and lots of shelves. The seating wasn’t all that comfortable. Chatting was discouraged. Not the most welcoming place.

Today the library/learning resource center/media center—call it what you will—is undergoing a metamorphosis. The library has emerged as a pivotal space with the potential to encourage community participation, support group learning, and tout exciting curricular undertakings.

At the Oak Ridge Elementary School media center, most shelves are confined to the walls, creating more room for group activities. Bright colors, natural light, and mobile furniture make the space not just a library, but a meeting place for staff and community.

The Place to Be

Major strides in technology and collaborative learning have propelled a movement toward libraries that are less about shelves and cubicles and more about flexibility, openness, and even invention.

Particularly influential is one-to-one computing (i.e., a device for every student). If you can get books on devices, why not get rid of some shelves and create a presentation lab? Here the teacher uses different media to present to ten to fifteen students, or students give their own presentations.

Maybe the school is launching exciting new curricular offerings. Wouldn’t the library, with its typically central location, be an ideal place to showcase these programs?

What if students meandering the library see, instead of rows and rows of books, a large window that displays a “makers’ space” that displays 3D printing and model making? Or what about a space rich with technologies for music and video editing?

If it’s flexible enough, the library can also function as a community meeting space. The new media center at Oak Ridge Elementary School (Palos Hills, IL), for instance, transforms from a group research hub to a venue for special events.

You Don’t Have to Build New to Feel New

A school doesn’t have to create a major addition to achieve an impressive library. Older high schools can aspire to Governor State University’s renewed library.

The library hadn’t had a major renovation for over 25 years. The seating was uncomfortable, the lighting was poor, and there were no group study rooms. It desperately needed a makeover.

Renovations transformed dark, dull spaces into vibrant and collaborative learning settings to which Governors State University students are flocking.

Renovations transformed dark, dull spaces into vibrant and collaborative learning settings to which Governors State University students are flocking.

A complete face-lift created breakout conference spaces and study nooks equipped with technology that enables students to practice their presentations. New student service points improved peer-to-peer interaction. Inviting spaces and open views have reduced “library anxiety” among students.

The overall feel of the library has shifted dramatically. With its bright colors and contemporary furnishings, it’s closer to an internet café or coffee house than to a traditional library.

Untuck the Library

The memories we have and the movies we watch continue to pigeonhole the library as a hideaway filled with reclusive students.

Also, the librarian is no longer someone who goes around shushing kids, but instead a guide to help students access what they need in an age of information overload.

I hope that you’ll join me in “untucking” the library from its traditional role. Yes, the library should still be a place where students can go to study quietly, but it should also be a place of shared ideas and experimentation.

When we walk into a library today, we should see a space that is bright, flexible, and welcoming. Then we will see the most rewarding sight: fulfilled staff and engaged students.


Sustainable Natatorium/Aquatics Center Design – Part One

Swimming consistently ranks among the top sports for building muscle, strengthening the heart, and controlling weight. Sadly, many facilities that host swimming programs are out of shape.

By embracing sustainable design strategies, a high school can achieve a natatorium that stands as a reflection of the activities it hosts!

The design of the Niles North High School Aquatics Center reduces both energy and water use by over forty percent. Photo copyright Emery Architectural Photography.

The design of the Niles North High School Aquatics Center reduces both energy and water use by over forty percent. Photo copyright Emery Architectural Photography.

Four years ago, Niles Township High School District 219 (D219) set out to transform its 48-year-old pool at Niles North High School into a model for sustainable aquatics centers. Recently, the expanded and renovated Niles North Aquatics Center earned LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

How can a high school create a natatorium/aquatics center that mirrors the health and efficiency of its athletes? Over the next few weeks, I’ll be offering a few tips based on my experience at Niles North. Here’s the first:

Stop Wasting Water!
Aquatics facilities have the potential to waste a lot of water. So designers and districts embarking on natatorium construction should prioritize water efficiency.

It starts before people even enter the building. Permeable pavers can help reduce stormwater runoff. Native plantings limit irrigation needs. More advanced rainwater harvesting systems can even collect water for non-potable (i.e., non-drinking) use.

Then the pool itself should be outfitted with efficient systems. For instance, the regenerative media system at Niles North helps reduce backwash by 89% compared to a regular pool filtration system.

The right collection of water-friendly support systems can further reduce water use: Niles North uses electronic water coolers with bottle fill stations. The stations have tickers that keep track of how many plastic bottles are saved. Low-flow plumbing fixtures and staff-monitored shower controls reduce student and staff water use by 42% compared to a regular building.

In my next post, I’ll discuss the importance of welcoming (and controlling) natural light.


STEM in Demand: The Importance of K-12 STEM Research Programs

Photo courtesy Nancy Tarnai, UAF

Photo courtesy Nancy Tarnai, UAF

 

Today’s guest blog comes to us from Janice Dawe, Ph.D., research assistant professor of natural resource education and outreach at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF). Jan also coordinates the university’s OneTree Alaska program. We asked her why STEM research programs are so important in today’s K-12 schools. 

 

STEM research programs in K-12 schools can be very important as part of the school turnaround movement. They create and test innovative approaches to STEM teaching and learning and, with attention paid to critical assessment, decrease the time between testing different approaches and establishing best practices for improving STEM learning outcomes. (Ultimately, evidence-based results depend on longitudinal studies).

Not tomorrow, but today: The workforce has its sights set on young professionals with the skills that STEM research programs help build. Photo courtesy Niles Township High School District 219.

Not tomorrow, but today: The workforce has its sights set on young professionals with the skills that STEM research programs help build. Photo courtesy Niles Township High School District 219.

Forward-thinking K-12 leaders have tuned into identifying STEM approaches—and propagating those approaches throughout the country’s education system.

STEM research programs are important because the 21st century workforce needs well-prepared students NOW!

STEM studies cultivate critical thinking, problem-solving habits of mind, and science/engineering process thinking. These skills will benefit any student’s choice of careers and should lead to the development of a more engaged, confident, and competent civil society; one that’s capable of taking on the big issues that face us.

Stay tuned for another post from Jan about her OneTree Alaska program, which has grown from a simple public outreach project to a STEM to STEAM K-20 year-round inquiry art and science program.


Adventures in Curiosity: Beneficiaries of Early Learning Centers

Early learning centers provide an opportunity to truly customize design for a particular age group. They also have the potential to set the tone for making the learning experience an adventure in curiosity.

When all early learning functions are joined in one place, the students, educators, and community benefit with an efficient and focused facility layered with learning environments.

Designers of the Community Consolidated School District 59 Early Learning Center are animating spaces that were once ignored. Pockets of space within the corridor are expanded and themed according to the adjacent Learning Gardens: Sensory, Nature, and Fine Arts. The floor pattern and materials, the ceiling heights and colors, and the wall materials help to define these learning and interaction spaces.

Designers of the Community Consolidated School District 59 Early Learning Center are animating spaces that were once ignored. Pockets of space within the corridor are expanded and themed according to the adjacent Learning Gardens: Sensory, Nature, and Fine Arts. The floor pattern and materials, the ceiling heights and colors, and the wall materials help to define these learning and interaction spaces.

Students First

A student’s first experience with school can be intimidating. As educators and architects, we have to create a welcoming early learning environment that supports students’ curiosity while easing their fears of separation.

Many spaces can be adapted to the child’s view and experience: classrooms, hallways, courtyards, entries, play spaces. To create adaptive and flexible learning spaces, designers can tweak factors such as color, textures, displays, counters, sinks, and furniture.

Getting Educators Excited

Because the 21st century early learning center centralizes this function, it gives teachers the opportunity to cross-pollinate ideas and resources. I’ve repeatedly seen teachers get excited about collaborating and sharing spaces in early learning centers. Examples include teaching one to one, small groups, “in-between spaces” for combined resources, and staging spaces for special needs.

A Community Resource

Not only does the dedicated early learning center start learners on the right foot, but it also supports families with special needs and builds community within the framework of the center. It even reaches out beyond the facility to the community at large.

Early childhood is a pivotal time for students to retain their natural curiosity and fall in love with learning. The research-based early learning facility encourages that passion, while boosting teacher morale and supporting families.

Here are Five Tips to Achieve a Program-driven Early Childhood Center.


Design That Links the Next Generation and the Environment

Nature is a closed loop, and we as humans have broken that loop; we’re the only species on Earth that creates waste that cannot be used by anything else. We designed ourselves into this dilemma. I believe that we’re smart enough to design ourselves out of it.

The bad news: the next generation will have to assume much of the burden of meeting this challenge. The good news: we as architects and building owners can do something about it now!

Half the classrooms at Hubble Middle School have views to a five-acre detention basin planted with native prairie grasses.

Half the classrooms at Hubble Middle School have views to a five-acre detention basin planted with native prairie grasses.

Our challenge today is to build bridges between today’s youngsters and their natural surroundings. We do this by designing schools that encourage a more intimate knowledge of the environment and an appreciation for its value. If that happens, students are much more likely to become agents for the change that we need.

Outdoor classrooms inspire teachers to get their students outside and connect with their natural surroundings.

Outdoor classrooms inspire teachers to get their students outside and connect with their natural surroundings.

It starts with simple techniques, like designing spaces with a variety of colors and textures similar to what is found outdoors. If a campus has a natural element, do classrooms have good views to it? Also, how can outdoor areas encourage teachers to take their students outside?

Designers also have to embrace biomimicry, which involves using patterns found in nature to solve design problems. For instance, how can buildings mimic plants to better absorb the sun’s energy? Learn more about the different types of biomimicry.

I often tell my students that this is one of the most exciting times to practice architecture. That’s particularly true when it comes to environmental concerns.


Plants on the inside: Here’s the data to support your suspicions

Some corporations and government agencies advocate “lean” facilities with little to no décor including plants. That’s too bad: research reveals that having plants in the office makes a big difference. You’re probably not surprised.

Unfortunately, many school districts have followed suit with the “lean” mentality.

Research proves that interior vegetation boosts productivity, concentration, and satisfaction. Photo courtesy Sage Vertical Gardens.

Research proves that interior vegetation boosts productivity, concentration, and satisfaction.
Photo courtesy Sage Vertical Gardens.

A recent report from the Universities of Cardiff, Exeter, Queensland, and Groningen suggests plants in offices increase productivity by 15% and workplace satisfaction by up to 40%, according to a press release from Ambius. The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, states that employees in green environments also report higher concentration levels.

If the presence of plants in the workplace can do this for adults, think about the implications for children in schools.

Internal foliage systems like vertical gardens have the potential to not only improve focus and productivity, but also help boost a child’s overall experience of the educational process. The concept of biophilia tells us that humans have an innate need for nature. So why not fulfill that need in the corridors, atriums, and classrooms of our schools?

Vertical wall systems come in all sizes. Here Scott Mehaffey with Sage Vertical Gardens shows students how the lighting system is calculated for a smaller unit.

Vertical wall systems come in all sizes. Here Scott Mehaffey with Sage Vertical Gardens shows students how the lighting system is calculated for a smaller unit.

If you’re coming to the IASB/IASA/IASBO 2014 Joint Annual Conference in Chicago this November, please stop by Legat Architects and Sage Vertical Gardens’ booth. We want to get your thoughts on where educational environments are headed in the coming years.