...understand the water cycle,” says Jose Murguido, partner in charge of the educational group at Zyscovich. “In addition, it sets a stewardship awareness on the kids.”

The owners sought LEED certification, while using standard building materials and techniques, and along with the design and construction team brought different expertise to the planning meetings.2

“It was a great opportunity to set the spec book aside and rethink things,” Thomas says. “We worked through value engineering and used it as a leverage point for a better school and university building to the tell the story of how a healthy environment can affect people.”

Fly ash replaced about 20% of the cement in the tilt-up panels. Recycled, crushed concrete was placed as a paving base for the asphalt parking areas. The cabinets, casework and wood doors contain Forestry Stewardship Council-certified lumber. A highly reflective roofing membrane, high-performance glazing and sunshades on the windows reduce heat absorption, thereby cooling requirements and overall building energy consumption.

Cisterns collect rainwater for irrigation, including watering a hydroponic garden where students grow strawberries, and for one of the toilets at the environmental center. The four cisterns located at the elementary school help educate students and staff about the importance of water conservation and rainwater harvesting.

Photovoltaic panels convert the sun’s energy into electricity, and a second solar system heats the water. The buildings share a chiller plant with high-efficiency mechanical systems.

“The long-term operational performance of water-cooled versus air-cooled chillers is higher,” says Thorn Grafton, director of sustainable initiatives at Zyscovich. “We’re getting good returns. The performance of the building is better than what was modeled.”

Construction Challenges Rather than clearing the site, Pirtle transplanted many of the pines and other vegetation in a 10,000-sq-ft temporary nursery until construction wrapped up and they could be replanted. Crews mulched some of the other vegetation. The job also required relocating gopher tortoises to a different area of the property.

“It was a preserve, and we took cautious and careful handling of trees and plants,” says Gary Pirtle, project executive, director of LEED initiatives and assistant vice president of Pirtle. “We cleared only the areas we needed. It was with kid gloves.”

Pirtle phased the work, starting with foundation and utilities work, to jumpstart the project before final building permits were issued. The company recycled more than 85% of the construction waste.

Signage, monitors displaying live data about energy and water consumption, windows into the mechanical spaces, and easily recognized solar panels promote youngsters understanding of sustainable principles.

“We’re proud of the project,” Pirtle says. “It’s a great teaching tool for the kids and the community.”

Key Facts

Owner: School District of Palm Beach County and Florida Atlantic University
Location: West Palm Beach, Fla.
Cost: $29.3 million
Contractor: Pirtle Construction Co., Davie, Fla.
Architect: Zyscovich Inc., Miami