HISD team tours green school designed to be a learning tool for students

A group of HISD parents, architects, teachers and administrators toured a Houston-area green school on Tuesday – complete with an eco-pond, windmill and daylight in every classroom.

A common area on the second floor of Gloria Marshall Elementary School utilizes reclaimed wood. (Photo courtesy of SHW Group)

Members of the Project Advisory Team (PAT) for Parker and Relief elementaries toured Gloria Marshall Elementary School in Spring to get ideas for the redesign of Parker and the design of Relief, which will be a brand-new school built under the district’s 2012 bond program. Such tours are being held for all the Project Advisory Teams to help bond campuses visualize the possibilities for their schools.

“This school excites me because it’s obvious that it was designed to be a teaching tool, from the solar panels to the windmill and the open walls that allow students to see how the building works,” said Rebecca Luman while touring the school. She is the mother of two HISD students.

“I really like that this school made a commitment to daylight in every classroom and other areas,” said architect Kathleen English of English + Associates Architects, Inc., which will design Relief Elementary. “Factoring in daylight is not just adding windows and letting light in. It’s managing light, and they’ve done a good job.”

Gloria Marshall was built in 2009 with natural concrete floors, reclaimed lumber, rain harvesting, and solstice windows to be an energy-efficient school and a campus with a building design that inspires student learning. Students are welcomed into the two-story building by the sound of water flowing in an eco-pond at the school entrance. The pond has underwater cameras that allow students to see fish and turtles swim around.

The school’s design includes lumber that was taken from a previous site and used in the new facility to construct some walls, a stage, and a student commons area. This concept of using reclaimed wood is being replicated in the preliminary designs for Furr High School in HISD. Furr will include elements of wood from its existing building to construct ceilings and special finishes at its new facility. Using the wood in the new Furr campus will help HISD meet its goal of building green schools that meet LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

“The use of the wood makes you feel like you’re outside when you’re inside,” Luman said.

During the tour, some members of the PATs had a chance to slide down a yellow helix slide that sits in a hallway and is used for science projects on motion and gravity. Above the library, there is a treehouse used for reading time and to launch airplanes made in science class into the air.

“This building was built with project based learning in mind to be able to use the building interactively,” said the school’s principal Kathy Morrison. “Instruction should drive construction.”

The building also includes a smart board in every classroom and charging stations for laptops and tablets for student use.

“They’ve used the building as a learning tool in so many different ways,” said Fernando L. Brave, of Brave/Architecture, the firm selected to design Parker Elementary. “One of the other nice things about this school is the simplicity of the floor plan and the sustainability components. I think it’s great that HISD is open to seeing examples of new school designs in other districts.”