When the School District of Palm Beach County and Florida Atlantic University teamed up to place an elementary school on the edge of the college’s 150-acre natural pine habitat and build a new educational center for the university, the partners aimed for LEED certification and pursued every possible point, eventually exceeding goals and earning LEED-Gold status for both structures.

Pine Jog Elementary School and FAU/Pine Jog Environmental Education Center
Photo: Pirtle Construction Co.
Pine Jog Elementary School and FAU/Pine Jog Environmental Education Center

The result was the $29.3-million Pine Jog Elementary School and FAU/Pine Jog Environmental Education Center in West Palm Beach.

“From a design, construction, mechanical, health and education standpoint, this project was a winner,” says Glenn Thomas, assistant dean for pre-K-12 Schools and Educational Programs at Florida Atlantic University.

Zyscovich Architects of Miami designed and Pirtle Construction of Davie, Fla., built the 130,000-sq-ft, four-building elementary school and the 15,000-sq-ft, two-building education center.

“It’s the first LEED Gold-certified school in the state of Florida and was a unique project to work on,” says Matt Mahoney, project manager for construction manager Pirtle Construction, which completed the project in March.

And it’s also the winner of this year’s Judges Award, the top prize in Southeast Construction’s annual Best Of competition. It also won the award for Best Green Building. Pine Jog beat out five other nominees for the Judges’ Award, with five of this year’s six judges voting it either first or second overall.

One of this year’s judges, Tim Ackert with the City of Orlando, called the entry from Pirtle Construction “outstanding” and “impressive.”

“It is extremely difficult to (achieve) LEED Gold, but they did it twice,” Ackert added. “Only through an excellent partnering relationship between owner, designer and builder can this be achieved. Design has to be well thought-out from the beginning and coordinated with construction. The benefits to the owners and the environment are substantial.”

Another judge, Cheryl Maze, an associate and marketing director with TLC Architecture for Engineering in Orlando, was equally impressed.

“Pine Jog provides a facility that lifts students to a higher level of comprehension on environment issues and experiences,” she said. “Thoughtful use of the site, thorough integration of sustainability in the design and construction and the learning tools provided by the facility create a space that is fully supportive of the district’s educational mission. The price per square foot is excellent (and) operating costs of the facility are among the lowest in the district. A winner all the way around.”

Education Partners The FAU College of Education has operated the Pine Jog Environmental Education Center on the site for nearly 50 years, providing opportunities for more than 25,000 students, 750 teachers and 12,500 adults annually to learn more about the natural environment and to foster an awareness and appreciation for nature, ecological concepts and stewardship toward the earth.

The university had developed a strong relationship with the school district over the years, and when the district approached the university about building an elementary school on the property, the two entities reached a mutually satisfactory agreement. The university leased the district the land, and the district built the environmental center a new 15,000-sq-ft facility.

“We had debilitated classroom and laboratory buildings,” Thomas says. “It was time to put our heads together to create a curriculum lab for the university and better working space for faculty and graduate students.”

Designing Green Both facilities serve to promote environmental education.

“The school uses the site as the classroom, and kids are encouraged to go outside and identify species and...