Mark T. Skinner West Elementary School strives for LEED® Silver Certification

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Location: 1260 W. Adams St. Chicago, IL 60607
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Owner/Developer – Public Building Commission of Chicago (PBC)

Architect – Schroeder Murchie Niemiec Gazda-Auskalnis (SMNG-A)

By: Angela Timmons

As school begins each year, students across Chicago show up for classes with new back packs, the latest in back-to-school fashions and pristine notebooks waiting to be filled. On the near West Side last fall, students at Mark T. Skinner West Elementary School had more than just a cool pair of sneakers to talk about as they kicked off a new year—they were starting classes in a school building designed to achieve LEED® Silver Certification.

Dedicated in September 2009, the new 101,000-square-foot, three-story Mark T. Skinner West Elementary School has a capacity for 750 students within its 30 classrooms. Architect of Record SMNG-A adapted the original Chicago Public Schools prototype to the site in addition to integrating Universal Design principles and those required to achieve the LEED® Silver rating.

SMNG-A Principal Ken Schroeder, FAIA, ALA, says the goals of Universal Design— which is “the design of environments to be usable by all people to the greatest extent possible without the need for adaptation or specialized design,”— meshed well with the LEED® features incorporated into the new Skinner School.

With a total cost of $41.6 million, according to the Public Building Commission of Chicago (PBC), some of the innovative sustainable design features include a series of outdoor classrooms that connect the facility to the adjacent Skinner Park, a green roof which covers 14 percent of the school and incorporates a Fibonacci design over the library, solar louvers and bioswales. The school was constructed using more than 30 percent recycled materials while 58 percent of the wood came from sustainably managed forests, along with low volatile organic compound (VOC) emitting materials.

A historic water tower, formerly used by an adjacent industrial building, was reused to harvest rainwater to irrigate the adaptive and native vegetation on the school grounds along with the green roof. Water efficient plumbing fixtures also reduce consumption by 34 percent and efficient energy-using systems perform 27 percent better than a similarly-sized building. In addition to expansively incorporating daylighting, SMNG-A designed the spaces so that over 90 percent provide views.

Named after Mark T. Skinner, a prominent Chicago lawyer and civic leader during the 19th century, the school’s connectivity to the community has been increased with the new building, which replaced a nearly 50-year-old facility. Local community groups are encouraged to use portions of the school, which were designed to be easily isolated during non-school hours.

To Schroeder, whose firm has designed several new LEED®-certified Chicago Public Schools in recent years, LEED® design helps create healthy learning environments with “improved air quality, better and more natural lighting and a deeper connection to the kids to learn,” Schroeder said.

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