A charter school system in Waxahachie, Texas, is constructing a state-of-the-art campus to meet the needs of its growing student body. The district broke ground in April 2014 on its seventh location, the Life School in south Dallas, which will serve 1,000 students. The new school will become a model for future projects in the rapidly growing district.
Staff and administrators were directly involved in the design and planning process to create a campus that exemplifies their teaching methods and embodies the core values of the charter system. The school was built from the ground up and includes many sustainable design elements.
The project started with initial design in August 2013, followed by a master plan and full design in October 2013. The school sits on a 26-acre site that lies partially in a 100-year floodplain, so engineering plans required a flood study and extensive soil conditioning and regrading.
The general contractor and construction manager at-risk, Beck Group of Dallas, is on track to complete the project in only two years from conceptual design to delivery. Beck encountered numerous design and budget changes along the way but says it will meet the time line by being flexible and maintaining strong, cooperative relationships with its subcontractors.
Beck Group architect and project manager Louis Sierra says the main drivers for the 131,000-sq-ft school were the inclusion of natural light and an intuitive plan where the "flow feels obvious"—where clean, modern aesthetics create a new identity for Life School.
The school is broken up into two main areas—the learning zone and the public zone—each embodying two architectural vocabularies. The learning zone consists of low, slug-sloped metal roofs that address the horizontal openness of the site. The public zone features taller volumes clad in CMU block and metal panels cast in the school colors.
Sierra says architects relied on the roof pitches "to make the big moves" between different sections of the school. Roof lines act as "wings" to add height and importance to the main public spaces and entrances and drop in height where there is a need for more privacy. "In many ways, [the design] reinforces one's intuition about where you should and should not go," says Sierra. "It creates a design with a new identity for the school and establishes a design standard for future campuses."
Design of the school's main-access drive called for construction of an oversized box culvert bridge across a creek. Beck also installed a one-mile extension to the sewer line, a task that required extensive coordination with the city and upstream property owners.
The foundation consists of pier-supported grade beams and column piers with slab-on-grade between them. During site preparation, Beck excavated 6 ft below grade, then installed 338 piers to support the steel frame. The exterior skin is made of burnished concrete block combined with grid metal panels. Roof systems include a metal inseam roof, flat metal roof and a metal panel roof on the gymnasium.
Beck senior project manager James Talkington says that as of mid-March, the building was dried in and roughly 70% complete. Classrooms were in various stages of drywall installation, and crews were placing overhead materials in the north half of the school, which houses the gymnasium and the band room.