DesignShare Logo


Our Current Featured Education Group:
Directory Case Studies Articles Awards Program Language of School Design
Membership E-Newsletter Events About Contact Home
High Performance Environments Make the Grade

By Adele Willson, AIA, LEED AP, Principal, SLATERPAULL Architects


The trend toward high performance buildings is a welcome addition to the world of educational facility design. With students and faculty spending 85 to 90 percent of their time indoors in the academic environment, providing a healthy and productive setting seems not only logical but essential in today’s world of design.

It is widely known that school facilities have been linked to the quality of education, student absenteeism, teacher morale and productivity, teacher attrition, and even student health.
We are not alone in our belief that if a building and site are ‘high performing,’ the staff and students will have a propensity for high performance too. Integrating basic high performance philosophies into facility design can promote a more stimulating and effective learning environment, lower operating costs and lessen the impact on the environment while teaching our future leaders to be stewards of their surroundings.

The U.S Department of Energy defines a high performance facility as “a building with energy, economic, and environmental performance that is substantially better than standard practice. It’s energy efficient, so it saves money and natural resources. It’s a healthy place to live and work for its occupants and has relatively low impact on the environment.”

Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, is a prime example of a high performance academic environment and boasts the reputation as the first LEED Gold certified private high school in the state.

Building Profile
Valor Christian High School is a private, college preparatory high school located just south of Denver, Colorado. The $55M privately-funded, state-of-the-art campus infuses high performance and environmental responsibility — incorporating a host of green building techniques to minimize energy consumption and deliver an exceptional environment for students, faculty and staff.

The facility encompasses a three-story, 118,000-square-foot academic building clad in traditional brick and stone, a 62,280-square-foot athletic complex and 42,000-square-foot stadium building. The academic building includes 28 classrooms, eight science labs, administrative offices, a 5,000-square-foot library/media center and an athletic complex. At capacity, Valor will educate 1,200 students, 300 per grade.
valor2 valor3

Design Process
The Board formed in the spring of 2005. The site for Valor was selected and purchased in January of 2006, with design of the campus immediately following.

Valor’s mission of “influence through excellence” was the guiding force for the project. Early in the design process, it was determined that a high performance building would help support and reflect Valor’s mission of excellence.

To accommodate the school’s academic schedule, the design and construction process was accelerated and completed in 21 months. Integral members of both the design and construction team were on site throughout the entire process.

The school’s standard of excellence and LEED certification requirements provided a high benchmark for success. As the project architect, we followed standards in key areas to qualify the school for the LEED program: optimizing site; minimizing energy consumption; use of environmentally preferable products; protect and conserve water; enhance indoor environmental quality; and, optimal operational and maintenance practices.

Key Sustainable Features
• Energy efficient mechanical and electrical systems
A displacement ventilation system was specified to maximize indoor air quality and optimize performance of the school’s mechanical system. A CO2 sensor registers the number of people in each space to bring in clean air as needed. The fresh air is introduced at or near the floor level, “displacing” the warmer room air to create a zone of fresh cool air at the occupied level. With the warmer air, contaminants rise to the ceiling level and are exhausted from the space.

• Daylighting
Daylighting was used as an instrumental component to promote high performance, as many studies have shown this to be a critical component of student and teacher performance One-quarter of the light fixtures in the classrooms are controlled by daylight sensors located on each exposure on the exterior of the building. If the sensors detect adequate daylight, light fixtures will not illuminate. All lighting is controlled by a centralized system where hours of operation can be set to define when and how much artificial light is allowed at any given time.

• Material Selection
Synthetic turf was selected over a traditional bluegrass field estimated to save 5.5 million gallons of water each year. The installation of water efficient landscaping will reduce water use in irrigation by 50 percent.

Low emitting materials, such as adhesives and sealants, paints, carpet systems and composite wood systems, were specified to optimize the indoor air quality. A building “flush-out” was performed prior to the facility being occupied to eliminate toxins that come from chemicals and new building materials. Valor has committed to using green cleaning chemicals and equipment to maintain the indoor air quality.

Throughout the construction process, 77 percent of the construction material was diverted from landfills and into recycling programs. Twenty percent of the materials used in the building are made up of recycled content and sourced from regional suppliers in an effort to reduce transportation costs and support the local economy.

Valor uses approximately half the amount of energy as a standard public school, saving an estimated $65,000 per year. As the first LEED certified private school in the state of Colorado, it stands as a shining example that high performance environments don’t necessarily require more work or cost more than traditional buildings, but are often just a matter of forethought and smarter design.

Adele Willson, AIA, LEED AP, is a principal of SLATERPAULL Architects, a third-generation architecture practice celebrating more than 35 years in business and specializing in the design of sustainable educational facilities. For more information, visit

August 20th, 2009

DesignShare publications are submitted by designers, university professors, architects, planning consultants, educators, technologists, futurists, and ecologists. Publications include podcasts, detailed case studies, conference proceedings, interviews, original research, editorials, thesis projects, and practical design guidelines.


User Tools

Membership | Reprint Policies | About | Contact | Home
© 1998-2016. All rights reserved.