Horry County Schools - Four Middle Schools and One Elementary School
Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Best Project

Owner: Horry County Schools
Lead Design Firm: SfL+a Architects
Design-Builder: Firstfloor Energy Positive
Civil Engineer: Thomas & Hutton
Structural Engineer: LHC Structural Engineers
MEP Engineer: Optima Engineering
Interiors Architect: Stantec
Exteriors Architect: Mozingo+Wallace

Designed and built simultaneously in just 21 months, four new middle schools and a new elementary school in Horry County, S.C., accentuate the school board’s focus on student-centered teaching and learning. The schools also generate more energy than they consume.

The schools achieve their “energy-positive” status by more than just a proliferation of solar panels—which number 2,100 at each site, delivering about 10% more energy than the schools require. Critically, the facilities are designed to consume between 50% and 60% less energy than a traditional school. Features contributing to that goal include a centralized geothermal system, dynamic air-filtration system, daylighting, LED lighting and hollow-core concrete floors and ceilings that also house the building’s ductwork.

To address the workforce challenge of building five schools simultaneously, the project team utilized multiple structural systems such as steel-frame, load-bearing masonry, hollow core concrete, light gauge trusses and glulam wood beams to make subcontractor packages manageable. Additionally, the team opted to prefabricate HVAC/electrical penthouses for each building.

The design team took a comprehensive view toward energy efficiency. For example, compared with an average school, the Horry County facilities feature 50% less exterior wall per sq ft, reducing the potential for temperature loss. Also, the project’s mechanical systems are roughly 30% smaller per sq ft than other typical school buildings, says the design-builder.

During the schools’ first three years of operation, the design-build team will have a full-time on-site staff person monitoring and optimizing building performance, while also educating users how the buildings work, ensuring that the energy conservation features become part of the school’s culture.

Key to FirstFloor Energy Positive’s pitch to win this contract was its guarantee that not only would the schools be delivered on time, but that they would also reach energy-positive status. Even so, “much discussion” took place before Horry County made its decision to proceed with the unconventional approach to a school project.

In a letter written after the schools became operational, Joe DeFeo, chairman of Horry County Schools, noted: “All the schools are ahead of schedule, and Firstfloor Energy Positive has exceeded our expectations. I can state with full confidence that HCSB made the right decision.”

Also, despite a two-month delay in the start of construction, the schools were delivered on schedule and under budget.