From Modest to Magnificent: Delivering Sweetwater Union High School District’s Sustainable Dreams
Looking at the Montgomery Middle School campus today, students, parents or visitors wouldn’t believe the magnificent facility was borne out of such modest beginnings. Before Sweetwater Union High School District entrusted Balfour Beatty with bringing the 1970s campus into the 21st century, walkways were defined by caution tape that led students away from the anachronous structure and into modular classroom buildings. Lunch shelters, left exposed to the elements, had degenerated from a once inviting retreat into an uninspiring ruin.
With industry-leading education and sustainable construction expertise, Balfour Beatty orchestrated a modernizing revival for Montgomery Middle School, exceeding the School District’s expectations by achieving LEED Platinum certification in lieu of the original LEED Gold target. With the passage of a bond program in 2006 that enabled the District to improve schools like Montgomery Middle, one of the key priorities that emerged was to align educational needs with environmental stewardship. Over the course of the project, Balfour Beatty made the District’s dreams for a healthy, high-performing learning environment a reality, all the while diverting over 93% of construction waste away from landfills and into recycling bins and reuse stations.
‘In with the new, out with the old’ might well have been the project team’s mantra for the first stages of construction, which entailed the demolition of several existing buildings to make way for the new, ultra-green facility. Three years after Balfour Beatty mobilized onsite, Montgomery Middle School boasted a stunning, two-story building featuring 18 classrooms, a library and media center, community-building cafeteria and student counseling center among other amenities. A departure from the existing single-story, wood-frame structures commonly constructed in the 1970s, the new building utilized concrete masonry units as the primary building element.
Many aspects of the project addressed the sustainable goals set forth in the LEED for Schools Platinum design. The large gentle sloping roof, for example, was designed to take maximum advantage of the south facing 217-kW photovoltaic (PV) panels. Outside the school, drought-resistant native plants enhance the landscape, and bioswales capture and treat storm water. Inside, thermal displacement ventilation systems allow conditioned air to flow through the floor rather than the ceiling, which uses less energy. Operable windows located on opposite sides of each classroom allow teachers to naturally ventilate the spaces while taking advantage of San Diego’s mild climate. Even the fixtures and furnishings contain recycled materials and were specified with high performance finishes designed for long-term durability. Through the collective benefits of these and other sustainable features, the facility exceeded state energy efficiency standards by almost 40 percent, providing the School District with ongoing savings in the form of lower energy costs.
“The school is a centerpiece for the community; it’s something we can all be proud of, and we couldn’t be happier,” remarked Louie Zumstein, Montgomery Middle School principal.
Studies consistently prove that well-designed classrooms that include proper ventilation, good acoustics, superior indoor air quality and abundant daylight have a positive impact on student attendance, concentration and performance.
The new Montgomery Middle School has become a source of pride for the entire community, creating a lasting legacy of technology-fluent, creative and sustainably-minded.
Sustainable Features Include:
- Energy-efficient lighting systems and controls
- Light shelves to bring natural light deeper inside the building
- Low-flow bathroom fixtures
- Environmentally-friendly, durable and safe finish materials such as carpeting with high recycled content; linoleum flooring made from rapidly renewable resources; and low-emitting adhesives, paints and finishes
- Drought-resistant, native landscaping and highly efficient irrigation systems
- Light-colored rooftop and hardscape surfaces to reduce the buildings’ cooling load and urban heat island effect