Sierra Grande PK-12 Replacement School, Blanca, Colorado | Heart of a Building’s episode on the Sierra Grande PK-12 school in Blanca, Colorado references “Passive House” performance standards as the guiding principles for the design and construction of this school building. To learn more about Passive House please check out the following links: Passive House US | Passive House Institute.

Sierra Grande PK-12 Replacement School, located at the base of Mount Blanca, serves just under 300 students. The 84,389-square-foot building sits on a 20-acre lot. After much debate on whether to make renovations or build a new facility, the Sierra Grande School District advisory group and Board of Education deemed it necessary to rebuild a new school that would replace the 1956 infrastructure for the best interest of the students. Shortly after passing the bond in November 2018, on their 2nd attempt, the district applied for and was awarded the Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) Grant providing the majority of the project funding. Under the BEST Grant, the building design and construction needed to meet or exceed Colorado Center for High-Performance Schools (CHPS) certification. Even though the decision for new construction called for the demolition of the old infrastructure, the cost of a thorough renovation to bring the school up to par with well-designed education facilities was going to be nearly 80% of a new building. Given this, the advisory group and community members opted to take a chance to apply for the BEST Grant and move forward with new construction with as little impact on the surrounding environment as possible. After the demolition of the school building, the new facility construction began on the old athletic field.

To exceed the requirements of the BEST Grant, the architects for the Sierra Grande School implemented various passive and mechanical strategies to achieve sustainability credits and build a school of lasting value. The project utilizes the Passive House Framework, a construction concept that leverages the site to maintain building thermal comfort, relieving mechanical systems of providing the majority of heating and cooling functions. In the case of Sierra Grande School, this is possible with the insulating and durable material properties of the building envelope, enabling the energy performance to be efficient enough without a boiler, chiller, or perimeter heating. The Sierra Grande mechanical HVAC system is impressively 100% electric and easily maintained by technicians of various skill levels due to its simplicity. The school’s location in the San Luis Valley is perfect for on-site solar PV panels. The school district is actively investigating now that the school is completed, which would enable it to produce as much energy as it consumes during the school year. While the average school building operates at 75 kBtu per square foot per year, the efficient passive and mechanical systems of Sierra Grande School enable it to achieve an Energy Usage Intensity (EUI) of just 23 kBtu per square foot per year. Leveraging the site characteristics and purposefully implementing passive systems alleviated the need for high-performance and expensive HVAC systems. That would enable the allocation of project budget monies to other design features that elevate the learning environment.

This project exceeded the sustainability standards for K-12 educational facilities due to the team’s intentions. The developers and school advisory board knew that the ‘heart’ of the school lies in its students, faculty, and families. Community meetings and workshops were held during the early design phases to offer the community members the opportunity to provide input and share their needs and hopes. Community buy-in was a priority, and the team engaged the community from the proposal process through to the end of construction.

The project team’s goal was to put the students first, as stated in the project brief, “Our goal is to provide an exceptional learning environment in which to provide students a quality education that puts them on a path for success as they pass through the Gateway”. Taking a risk to apply for the BEST Grant so that children in a smaller town could have the same opportunities as other schools in Colorado is inspiring!

  • “Future-Proof” Your School With the Passive House Framework,
    Cuningham Group Architecture, Inc. | Website
  • Sierra Grande Hosts Meeting on New School, (2017, December 20). Alamosa News | Article