"[We] strive to target sustainable principles for every project whether or not the client is actively pursuing LEED," Sierra says.

Beck Group has used 45 subcontractors and had roughly 150 workers on site at the peak of construction. The largest subcontractor is Century Mechanical Contractors, Fort Worth, which is performing HVAC and plumbing work. The Dallas office of BakerTriangle is handling the drywall and acoustical ceiling installation, and Ennis Steel Industries Inc., Ennis, Texas, fabricated the steel.

Sierra says the experimental nature of the project has presented opportunities for Beck Group. Because it was the Life School's first greenfield project of this size, the owner, designers and contractor had the flexibility to experiment with new materials and designs. For example, the architect specified composite carpet tiles and polished concrete throughout the school to better resist stains and keep maintenance costs down.

The project team also incorporated more flexibility into the student spaces. The library features movable presentation walls that allow it to double as a staff training area. The cafeteria has flexible space, and the gymnasium features a spacious lobby with 30-ft ceilings. It can also be used as an event space.

"It has been a learning process for the whole team," Sierra says. "[There isn't] a set of standards like you would have for a typical school. We were able to try new things with this project."

Other innovations began before the project broke ground. Construction is being funded through a financing mechanism new to Texas. Charter schools have historically been at a funding disadvantage in the state because they lack the capital and geographical tax base of independent school districts. That makes them riskier bets for investors and usually brings lower credit ratings.

Life School's B bond rating left it paying high interest rates until the state of Texas agreed in 2014 to guarantee charter school bonds through the $37.7-billion Permanent School Fund. That gave the project an AAA rating, which opened up access to lower-cost borrowing and improved its financial position. Life School's chief of staff, Scott Fuller, says the change significantly dropped borrowing costs and expanded funding for capital improvements and construction.

"It saved us roughly $13 million, and we were able to go out there and borrow up to $100 million, in part to refinance our debt and cover the costs of new projects, mainly the new school," says Fuller.

An increase in available funds and the needs of a growing school led to a number of changes in design and construction. Life School originally had a budget of $18 million, but Beck's master plan and preliminary program demonstrated that the budget was inadequate for a school of that size. Life School was able to use the master plan to achieve a larger bond package and nearly double the project's budget.

The school district has expanded to 5,000 students in 2014 from 266 students in 1998, so it also wanted a large campus that could serve even more students in the future.