Hubble Middle School: Designing for the Future

By Matt Baker

When School District 200 approached Legat Architects seeking a firm to design a new middle school for the Wheaton/Warrenville area, they had specific requests and parameters. What school officials didn’t expect was to have the tables turned on them. “If you were to design your own workspace or classroom, what would you design it to be?” That’s the question Legat’s Patrick Brosnan, who served as principal on the project, put to the faculty and staff. “In fifty years, how would you be using the classroom? Because it will still be there in fifty years.”

This proved to be a challenging question, but one worth asking. An obvious answer was change in technology, but it wasn’t the only one. Today’s students, the teachers explained, already have a different learning environment than their parents had. They don’t just sit in rows facing the teacher and soak up lectures anymore. “Now they are more engaged and follow group discussion,” said Brosnan. “They do presentations in the classroom more readily with technology.”

In addition to the classrooms, labs and office space, the school has two gymnasiums, a fitness center, library and separate spaces for music and drama. Additionally, extended classroom space allows teachers to let their students spread out. The kids can even work in the halls, as large glass windows permit the teachers to supervise.

The district attributes much of the school’s success to the involvement of the entire school community from the very beginning of the planning process. Hubble Principal Dr. Beth Sullivan said, “There was nary a stakeholder, from the board of education to the central office staff, who didn’t have an opportunity for input.” School staff and the building’s designers held community meetings, with the number of participants ranging from a single citizen to eighty.

The three-story, 190,000 square foot facility sits on eighteen acres of land in west suburban Warrenville. It opened in time for the 2009-2010 school year. This May, Hubble achieved LEED for Schools from the USGBC. The school became the third in Illinois, and the first Illinois school outside of Chicago, to achieve the relatively new certification at the Gold level. Bovis Lend Lease did the construction and KJWW Engineering assisted with the mechanical engineering.

Hubble Middle School’s previous incarnation was constructed in the late ‘60’s. It was, at the time, state of the art. As the district grew over the years, so did the school, with various extensions added to accommodate new students. Despite using newer mechanical systems along the way, school administrators realized that their utility bills were steadily rising. One culprit: building codes now require more oxygen to be brought into the classroom, even if unoccupied. The older designs didn’t require as much ventilation and now, redundant systems are the norm. One of the school’s goals, therefore, was to reduce energy expenditures.

“The district was very used to the 1980’s approach to large facilities,” said Brosnan. “You create a central boiler plant and central air handling so that a maintenance guy can go to one room and they can handle everything from that one location.” This method is great for controlling a building’s functions, but big central plants pushing the air down the hallway through enormous ducts is very inefficient.

In the new school, virtually every classroom has its own air handling system and separate controls. Outgoing air tempers the air coming into that classroom to reduce the strain on the HVAC system. As a result, facility managers can shut down sections of the school to save energy when that space is not being used, even if the room across the hall is alive with spitballs and paper airplanes.

All the concrete block in the building was high in recycled content. The floor tile is a bio- based product by Armstrong instead of the usual PVC, emitting fewer volatile organic compounds into the air. During construction, 82% of demolition and construction waste was diverted from landfills.

Water use was reduced 35% with the use of low flow faucets and urinals, aerators and dual flush toilets. In the kitchen, no garbage disposals were installed; all food waste is collected for composting. The dishwashers and pre rinse spray valves are all low flow.

Portions of the parking lot make use of permeable pavers to reduce stormwater runoff. The school district wanted to do all the parking lots in permeable pavers, but found it cost prohibitive. “We’re hoping that in the future this is a good experiment for them,” said Brosnan, adding that he hopes the district will “be able to see ease of maintenance, durability and long term use, and maybe consider permeable pavers on other lots in the future.” School district 200 currently oversees fourteen schools, including Hubble.

In addition to the pavers, bioswales and a green roof also aid in water management.

An adjacent five-acre wetland is designed to hold up to six inches of rainfall. One of the school’s neighbors, BP Amoco, sits at the bottom of a hill and has no place that they could put their storm water retention without losing prime real estate. The school approached BP and they accepted the idea of creating a naturalized detention basin on the land for storm water, so long as it was sized for their future growth. “In the interim, until they actually develop something at the bottom of the hill, we are actually holding more water than the building was designed to do,” said Paul Pessetti, Legat’s project manager on the Hubble Middle School design. “So it’s a great benefit for everyone.”

The project benefited by a couple of grants, one coming from the Illinois Community Clean Energy Foundation (ICCEF). The trust, established several years ago by Commonwealth Edison, looks for noteworthy projects that will promote sustainable buildings, specifically projects that will enhance generations in the future such as educational facilities.

Daylight harvesting and light sensors help reduce electricity consumption, a point almost any student could tell you. “The building’s sustainable aspects are designed to lower utility bills, but they are also expanding the curriculum,” said Brosnan. “The school has become a teaching tool, used by the students, teachers, and community members.”

When students lead tours of their new building, they talk about its high performance systems, and its reduced impact on the environment. Teachers use features like the recycled materials, green roof, outdoor learning areas and permeable pavers in the parking lot to support lessons in light reflection, absorption of light energy and rainwater runoff and filtration.

The school was also designed with expansion in mind, to accommodate the school district if it should grows as expected, eliminating the need to construct an entirely new school down the road. Just as they put the question to Hubble’s faculty about the future of education, Brosnan and Pessetti are mindful that their profession will see tremendous change in the years to come.

Hubble was first and largest project that Legat put into a 3D modeling program. “When you start sketching, as architects, we think in 3D, Brosnan explained. “Clients don’t always understand 2D pictures that represent 3D space.” Supplying detailed, three-dimensional representations of the proposed school helped with the referendum, as residents understood what it was they were voting for.

The opportunities for collaboration during the design process will also push the boundaries. The design staff, client and community can give input to models virtually in real time. “If you can be shovel ready faster, you’ll save money in any economy,” said Brosnan.

Advanced modeling, such as the ability for a client to walk through their proposed building with 3D glasses , won’t be such a surprise to the next generation of clients. “These kids that are growing up today … are already in 3D virtual worlds,” said Pessetti. “That understanding of what it is I’m buying as a client is going to be huge. It will increase the level of trust between a client and an architect.”

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