WhenBill Olien, assistant superintendent of facilities for the MurrietaValley Unified School District (MVUSD) in California, got the news inMay 2007 that the utilities infrastructure for his new elementaryschool would not come to fruition, the project could have been throwninto a complete tailspin. In August 2007, the Lisa J. Mails ElementarySchool in Murrieta, CA was set to welcome more than 700 students forthe new school year, just three months away. But instead of delayingthe opening, all the involved parties worked together to face this notso minor setback. Says Olien, “We came up with some interestingsolutions. And the school did open in August.”
Currently in the midst of its first school year, the70,000 square foot facility was equipped with the necessaryinfrastructure to open on time after the district made alternate plans.The school district commissioned a well for water supply; a propanesystem was brought in for gas supply; and the phone and data servicesoperate on a wireless system, which is linked to one of the districthigh schools. Additionally, a dirt road leading to the school was pavedby the district shortly before the school year began.
“It’sbasically a self-sufficient school,” says Olien, “but we are workingwith the state and the county to build a permanent infrastructure androad—hopefully in the next year or so.”
Under conditions set by the county, the original planhad been for a housing developer to provide sewer, water, gas, andphone infrastructure for the 1,000 or so homes it planned to build inthe vicinity of the school. The new school would use these resources aswell. However, a sagging housing market caused the developer to haltits plans after 50 homes were built.
This turn of eventsoccurred at a time when construction of the elementary school was abouthalfway done. Olien explains that at that time the developer remainedcommitted to building the
infrastructure, since the nearby school would be a selling pointfor the homes that did exist. However, he explains, “They came to us inMay 2007 and said they weren’t going to pave the road or build theinfrastructure.”
Build It And They Will Come
Planning for the Lisa J.Mails Elementary School began in 2005 as the district anticipated apopulation influx into southern California’s Riverside County, largelydue to the announcement that 1,000 homes would be built in the FrenchValley area of the city of Murrieta. “We think of the housing slumpnow,” says Olien, “but two years ago, the pace of home construction wassignificant. Riverside County is one of the fastest growing counties inthe nation. We had about a 1,000 plus homes coming online, and weneeded a school.”
But when the housing developer ceased construction, theschool district faced a population issue, since the number of studentsexpected to attend the new school would be much less than originallyanticipated. (The infrastructure challenge would occur months later.)
SaysOlien, “There were between 250 to 300 students living in the attendanceboundary area, which is a pretty small elementary school.” There wouldbe a lot of unused space in the new school.”
The answer wasto designate Lisa J. Mails as a school of choice, which means thatstudents from any elementary school in the district and beyond couldattend. This was a first for the district.
Along with that decision, the Board of Educationdetermined the facility would also be a school of focus, with the focuson visual and performing arts. Also a first for the district, thismeant that students would be privy to extensive and regular experiencein the arts, as well as a regular academic program enriched with thearts.
The decisions to offer a school of choice andschool of focus solved the issue of a lack of students. Once theannouncements were made about the offering, hundreds of parentsenrolled their children at Lisa J. Mails. When the school opened lastfall, there were 776 students attending kindergarten through sixthgrade.
“There are about 150 students who come from outside of thedistrict,” explains Olien. “We also have about 50 children who camehere from private schools or home schooling who had never been enrolledin public schools before.”
Olien credits a lot of theinterest in the school to the visual and performing arts focus. “It hasbeen a very popular program,” he says.
The school ofchoice designation didn’t change the facility plans significantly,since the building had been designed for a larger number of students.However, the focus on the visual and performing arts did requirechanges to be made in some of the spaces.
Still,Olien emphasizes that the changes were all quite manageable. “We werein the middle of construction, so making major modifications to thefacility, in terms of the arts focus, would have been difficult. Andfor the most part, we didn’t need to make major changes. We did makesome sound and lighting upgrades in the multipurpose room. And wededicated certain classrooms to the arts, which required somealterations. For example, we changed the flooring in the rooms thatwere dedicated to visual art. We also have a dance room, so we put adifferent floor in there as well.
“It was fortunate we didn’t have to make major changes,”continues Olien. “Although we may have done some things different fromthe very beginning if we had known, it’s working well now as it is.”
Time For A Change
Theprevious several years had been busy for Olien’s department with fourelementary schools having been opened during that time period. “All ofthose schools reflected the same design,” says Olien. “With thisschool, the superintendent and the Board of Education thought it mightbe appropriate to consider a different design approach, while alsoimproving upon what we had done in the past.”
The districthired the southern California office of WLC Architects, Inc. to designthe campus. Olien notes the district had worked with the firmpreviously, though not on the four recently opened elementary schools.
Beyond meeting the basic need to provide a facility for ananticipated influx of students, the overall goal for the school was tocreate an environment conducive to learning. This included attention toinstructional technology, rooms designed to foster productivity, andsecurity.
The district created a committee of teachers,parents, and administrators to discuss what would be important toinclude in the new school. “We had a lot of teacher input throughoutthe design process. That drove much of it,” explains Olien. “There wasalso a lot of one-on-one consultation. For instance, if there was aquestion about a kindergarten classroom, we would go to a kindergartenteacher for input.”
Input from teachers was not onlyappropriate because they would be the most frequent users of theclassrooms, but also because the school was being named after one oftheir own. Lisa J. Mails, a teacher in the district, had passed away in2005, and that same year the Board of Education approved the new schoolto be named in her honor.
The technology aspect wasincorporated into every classroom and other educational spaces with anintegrated audiovisual system. Each room was outfitted with a controlpanel that teachers use to coordinate operation of a projector, voiceenhancement (microphone), computers, and other audiovisual systems.
“Thereis always a need for these types of tools nowadays,” says Olien. “Thisapproach takes all of the tools the teachers use and integrates theminto an easy push button system.
“We’ve heard positive feedback on the voice enhancement.Many of the teachers have said the students pay better attention,because they are able to hear better,” adds Olien.
A centralstrategy used to incorporate energy efficiency was the lighting systemthe school chose. “We had received a lot of feedback from the teachersabout wanting more natural light in their classrooms,” recalls Olien.
Thedual goal of energy efficiency and an improved learning environment ledthe district to specify a lighting system that would enable it toachieve both.
The strategy implemented consists of skylightsin each classroom coupled with a lighting controls system that sensesthe natural light levels entering into the room. When the classroom isnot illuminated through windows and skylights to the pre-specifiedlight levels, the lighting controls system automatically dims orbrightens the artificial lighting.
“This is the first schoolin which we’ve used a significant number of skylights in everyclassroom,” says Olien. “And it’s the first time we’ve used this kindof lighting controls system. A teacher can open or close the skylightsmanually and override the controls system, if necessary.”
Olienand his team also considered other strategies related to energyefficiency and the environment, but some of those ideas did not come tofruition due to cost. “We tried to strike a balance between beingenergy efficient and environmentally friendly and dealing with thecosts,” he explains. “We had gotten significant feedback from teachersabout wanting more natural lighting, so that became a focus.
“Butwe also considered solar energy, since our area is quite sunny most ofthe time,” continues Olien. “However, the payback—return oninvestment—would be about 20 years out.”
Olien also notesthat how the buildings were sited was a part of the design process.Working with the natural topography, the architects oriented the schoolto maximize the amount of natural light that would enter its interiorthroughout the day.
While environmental strategies did notdominate the design and construction of the school, there were somesite considerations that did dictate certain aspects of the project.The site, set in a fairly rural area, is part of California’s MultipleSpecies Habitat Conservation Plan, which recognizes areas in the statethat must be protected for the value of their ecosystems.
“Weneeded to go through the process of being permitted to build the schoolthere in the first place,” Olien explains. “And there are some blueline streams on the site that we could not disturb.” The architectsincluded a pedestrian bridge spanning one of those streams to enablestaff members to walk from the employee parking lot over to the school.
“From the beginning, we were designing around the environment,” says Olien.
Thedistrict also included security measures at the Lisa J. MailsElementary School that were not present in other district schools.While there are video surveillance systems elsewhere in the district,this school is the first to be connected to a centralized system. Olienexplains that, over time, the district will centralize all of thecameras in its schools.
“Also, we have deployed a lock and key system in thisschool that we haven’t used anywhere else,” says Olien. “The keys havea second pin on them, which makes it unique to our district, and itcannot be copied by anyone other than us. We are now going back toretrofit the other schools with this system.
“We havealso incorporated electronic badge swipers for the teachers who comeinto the school after hours or on the weekends,” he continues. “Theteachers can swipe their badges, which opens the doors and disables thealarms that are in their areas—such as their particular classroom andthe teachers’ lounge, for instance.”
Whenasked about his favorite aspect of this project, Olien replies, “It isthe fact that we faced a whole bunch of challenges to make this happen.And now we have students, parents, and teachers who are excited to beat the school, and we have a great program.
“The facilitywas not a hindrance to that,” he continues. “They were able to show upon day one and be excited about the program, and the facility was thereto be able to help the educational process. We weren’t in the way.”
This article was based on an interview with Olien (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Project: Lisa J. Mails Elementary School.
Location: Murrieta, CA.
Type of Project: New.
Function of Facility: Public Elementary Education.
Facility Owner: Murrieta Valley United School District.
Project Manager: Bill Olien, assistant superintendent of facilities.
Square Footage: 70,030.
Project Timetable: August 2006 to August 2007.
Budget: $29.1 million.
Cost Per Square Foot: $300.
Architect: WLC Architects, Inc.
General Contractor/Construction Manager: EDGE Development, Inc.
Electrical Engineer: CWA & Associates, Inc.
Mechanical Engineer: BP & Associates, Inc.
Structural Engineer: K.B. Leung & Associates, Inc.
Landscape Architect: KDA Landscape Architects, LLC.
Furniture: HON; Herman Miller; Virco.
Office Equipment: Dell; HP; Xerox.
Building Management System: Carrier.
Security System/Smart Cards/Alarms: Bosch.
Fire Alarms: Notifier.
Safety Equipment: Kidde; Notifier.
Lighting Controls/Sensors/ Fixtures/Ballasts: Lutron.
HVAC Equipment: Carrier.
Power Supply Equipment: Cutler-Hammer.
Backup Power: Tripplite.
Roofing System: GAF.
Exit Lights: Ebenlalite.
Window Treatments: Levelor.
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