When the Spring Independent School District (SISD) began planning to construct its newest elementary building, the administrators’ primary focus was sticking to a proven, budget-conscious design. However, school leaders quickly discovered that smart architectural planning, coupled with the right combination of contractors and materials, could allow the school to be completed on budget, utilizing the latest sustainable trends and building methods.

Working with architectural firm SHW Group, SISD’s administration designed the 105,000-square-foot Gloria Marshall Elementary School in Spring Texas, which was built by Purcell Construction and completed in September 2010. The building features numerous sustainable elements that promote both conservation and energy efficiency. Successfully securing a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the school has also been designed to earn an Energy Star rating from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and was bestowed a Houston American Institute of Architects award in 2011.

Functional + Educational

An on-site wind turbine and 10 kilowatts of roof-mounted photovoltaic cells provide the school with independent renewable energy sourcing capabilities, while passive solar features and a reflective white roof contribute to heat management. Also, daylighting and a smart controls sensor system enable the school to harvest 75 percent natural light for illumination needs. An above-ground cistern collects rainwater in a way that can be observed by students, and supplies it to an outdoor eco-pond. A 20,000-gallon underground tank, which is also fed by the roof drainage system, supplies water for the school’s bathrooms. Further water conservation is achieved via an irrigation-free landscaping design. A science garden, river table, recycled-content materials, and other sustainable construction materials additionally contribute to the school’s notability as both a green structure and a hands-on learning environment for students.

“Gloria Marshall Elementary School is an amazing facility in many ways,” said Jeff Windsor, director of construction and energy, SISD. “We are not only saving the district money — close to 50 percent when compared with our older building prototypes — but have created a dynamic building that will be used daily as an instrument of learning.”

According to Windsor, many systems in the school serve a functional and educational purpose. “The roof-mounted photovoltaic cells are not only a learning tool, they are a trial to determine if we will replicate their use on a much larger scale to supply most of the electricity for our next school,” he said. “This also applies to the on-site wind turbine. Also, a touch-screen display, located in the school’s foyer, monitors the real-time activity of the mechanical and electrical systems of the building and is being tested for future use throughout the district.”

High-Performance Geothermal System

The facility also features a high-performance HVAC system that incorporates geothermal technology, which is expected to facilitate at least a 25 percent energy savings beyond that specified by code. The 275-ton system includes a network of 180,300-foot-deep vertical wells and geothermal heat pump technology from ClimateMaster. It is comprised of 64 Tranquility® 20 single-stage (TS) and Tranquility 27 two-stage (TT) units, as well as two Tranquility 340 modular water to water (TMW) units, utilizing EarthPure® HFC-410A refrigerant technology.

“As our first project with the SHW Group, SISD, and in the Houston area overall, this needed to be a home run for us,” said Mark Seibert, principal at CMTA Consulting Engineers Inc., the project’s mechanical/electrical/plumbing (MEP) firm. “We wanted to make sure we had a manufacturer on board who would be a partner on the project — not just an equipment supplier.”

According to Seibert, the ClimateMaster units used enabled CMTA to design a system that would deliver the required 25 percent energy savings for the project, while also helping to earn all available energy points for LEED certification at the Gold level.

“ClimateMaster was with us on this job every step of the way,” said Seibert. “This has been an example of how the trust and professionalism in a true partnership with your equipment supplier can make great things happen.”

Michael Glasner, president, Southern Mechanical, who served as the project’s mechanical contractor, said his team navigated a few learning curves while researching the best way to install the system, as it was his first experience with a geothermal ground-source heat pump.

“By the end of the job we had a solid understanding of how best to integrate geothermal into a school, and why, overall, this is a great system for saving on energy costs,” he said. “In fact, we’ve since completed a second geothermal job, and I expect we’ll be seeing more in the future.”

In all his experience with geothermal systems, Russell Buras, president, LoopTech, said he’s never experienced a project quite like this one. Buras and LoopTech oversaw drilling of the well field, which was created under Gloria Marshall’s parking lot and under a field on the school’s grounds. The company used enhanced thermal grout in all the wells and additionally installed the ground loop field for the geothermal system. LoopTech also aggregated HDPE piping from the field into an outdoor vault, from which the supply and return mains circulate water to and from the HVAC system’s HDPE piping inside the building via a distributed pumping configuration.

“From an overall project perspective, everything went smoothly,” said Buras. “We also have a lot of pride in it as a company, including our work in helping to create the student learning experience with the exposed geothermal heat pumps inside the school. Since completing the job, we’ve used it several times as a showcase for our potential customers — people have even flown in from out of state to see it. In addition to many accolades for the impressive nature of this project overall, I’m expecting Gloria Marshall will see tremendous savings on their energy bills.”

Students and faculty were amazed at the unique learning opportunities as they entered the facility for the first time in August 2011.

“Everywhere you look there are teaching tools incorporated into the campus. In fact, the building itself is a teaching tool,” said Kathy Morrison, building principal. “Using discovery learning, our students are involved in engaging projects that incorporate core subjects and have been designed with the learner in mind.”

Plans to add underwater cameras and other equipment are underway, allowing students to study the ecosystem, compare living and non-living things, investigate the life cycle of plants and animals, and collect data on the impact of environmental factors. Additional learning features include an indoor tree house made from reclaimed wood, a helix-shaped indoor slide, a series of windows designed to enable students to track the sun’s movement throughout the year, and outdoor gardens designed for a host of interdisciplinary learning activities.

“Gloria Marshall is an exciting place to teach and learn. We are all enjoying the opportunities that this unique facility provides for both students and staff,” Morrison said.

Publication date: 6/25/2012