Facility Profile - March 2008
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Making the Grade

Cesar Chavez Elementary School in Long Beach, Calif.

By Kelli Anderson

ost public schools measure academic achievement with test scores. But for one school district inspired to rise to the additional challenge of the California energy crisis, simply making the grade was not enough. Their goal, beyond excelling in academics, was to build a new school with an emphasis on sustainable design. Such an emphasis, they hoped, would positively impact the natural environment while also enhancing the relationship between students and their community. By anyone's measure, they succeeded well beyond expectation.

Three and a half years after its opening, the Cesar Chavez Elementary School in Long Beach, Calif., is still making headlines and winning awards for its amazing energy efficiency and creative design. With money-saving results to justify its $15 million price tag, the school boasts an annual reduction of energy consumption by $30,000 and water usage by 100,000 gallons. After only one year, the school's energy efficiency surpassed the state's recommended quota by 34 percent.

The goals for the school's designers, LPA Inc. in Irvine, Calif., were lofty: to create a highly-energy-efficient space with attention to environmental, aesthetic and multifunctional concerns by adhering to criteria set down by the Collaboration for High Performance Schools (CHPS).

"The most rewarding part of this project," said Kimberly Coffeen, architect and project manager with LPA Inc., "is that it helped set sustainable design standards, which were recently adopted by the school board to be implemented district-wide."

According to California's State Architect, David F. Thorman, adhering to such criteria usually costs 1 to 2 percent more, but nets a long-term savings of 10 to 15 percent, thanks to energy efficiency. That, he explained, is the most significant reason why people are willing to do it.

Taking advantage of readily available resources (read: free) such as sunlight and rainwater is a great way to reduce a facility's utility expenses. For Cesar Chavez Elementary, orienting the building toward the sun to maximize its exposure and designing exterior and interior spaces to make the most of that light, allows natural light to illuminate 90 percent of the facility, including corridors and the gymnasium. Dimmers, daylight sensors and occupancy sensors ensure that what artificial light is used is used efficiently.

Heating and cooling the facility also took advantage of natural resources. Located by the ocean, cooling ocean breezes waft through the many-windowed openings of the school's interior spaces, while attention to environmentally friendly insulation and an energy-efficient heating system cut down on heating costs in the colder months.

Stormwater, liquid gold in Califormia's rain-challenged climate, is diverted from surface areas and filtered while other sloped areas divert water toward spaces planted with native, drought-tolerant species.