Future-Ready Designs With Current Energy Savings

The new building and playground of the Vancouver Innovation, Technology and Arts Elementary School in Vancouver, Wash. PHOTO COURTESY OF STEVE WEBB 
Design thinking. Inquiry-based learning. Future-ready skills. Flexible and adaptive practices.

These are the hallmarks of two recently constructed schools: Vancouver Innovation, Technology and Arts Elementary School in Vancouver, Wash., Public Schools; and John S. McCain III Elementary School in Buckeye, Ariz., Elementary School District.

When it opened in September, Vancouver Innovation, Technology and Arts Elementary School, or VITA, modeled the premise that learning happens anytime and everywhere. The highly flexible design and layout of this 64,000-square foot building will help creative learners and teachers nurture curiosity and develop a design-oriented mindset to solving problems. Empowering and engaging learning experiences will be delivered through an interdisciplinary, inquiry-centered, project-based curriculum. Arts and technology integration will be a core instructional element of the school’s program.

VITA Elementary features high ceilings and open learning studios that can be reconfigured to accommodate larger groups and lecture-style demonstrations. These flexible communities support the exploratory curriculum and reinforce a sense of connection across the school. Abundant windows and access points offer students and teachers a view to the playground and outdoors, where the learning invitation extends into various playscapes. As an asset that will serve its community for generations, the school is designed to adapt to changes in teaching or learning methods.

Sustainable and adaptive practices shaped the school’s construction, enabling VITA Elementary to exceed the Washington Sustainable Schools Protocol, an eco-friendly green building approach to site development, water use, materials, energy, indoor environmental quality and operations. The school was designed and built with the capability to add renewable solar panel arrays providing up to 36 kilowatt hours per year, an estimated 10 percent of the building’s energy consumption.

VITA Elementary will serve as an exploratory laboratory school in 2022-23 and is anticipated to convert to a districtwide K-5 school-of-choice magnet in 2023-24.

McCain’s Daylighting

John S. McCain III Elementary School is a C-STEM school that provides inquiry-based learning opportunities while simultaneously embedding an underlying architecture fostering social-emotional learning. The design for McCain Elementary is grounded in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and focuses on creating a high-performance learning environment that is considered foundational to developing self-actualized learners.

Daylighting is a major area of emphasis. Every occupied space has ample daylight with glare control, and full spectrum LED lighting is used as a minimal supplement. The facility consequently uses 40 percent less energy for lighting end use. The facility also is designed with the most efficient heating and ventilation system possible within district standards. High SEER packaged units and the use of energy recovery ventilators help to reduce HVAC energy end use by 18 percent. 
The new building and playground of the Vancouver Innovation, Technology and Arts Elementary School in Vancouver, Wash. PHOTO COURTESY OF STEVE WEBB

Occupant wellness is another important element of McCain Elementary. Biophilic design, using natural resources to create a sense of harmony between modern architecture and nature, is one approach that has been shown to help normalize occupant physiology, and improve cognition, short- and long-term memory, retention and, above all, occupant engagement and belonging.

Outdoor learning and connection to the outdoors was a feature design strategy to incorporate the known physical, physiological and psychological benefits of engagement with the outdoors. Every learning hub, classroom and common area has adjacent outdoor learning spaces that provide both structured and unstructured opportunities to engage with the outdoors. Strategic use of building forms and shade structures help extend the outdoor learning season into the shoulder months and give teachers a wide variety of flexible use options for learners.

McCain Elementary, serving kindergarten through 8th grade, opened in 2021-22 and has hosted hundreds of visitors from across the country.

STEVE WEBB, a former superintendent, is a national senior consultant with AASA’s Learning 2025. Twitter: @SuptWebb. CASEY WYCKOFF is CEO of LSW Architects in Vancouver, Wash. SARAVANAN BALA is the principal of the Education Studio @ Orcutt Winslow in Phoenix, Ariz.