Founded in 1998, Life School is one of the most successful charter school systems in Texas. With 5,200 K-12 students on seven campuses, Life School needed a dedicated high school. Positioning itself to be the first charter school in Texas to access the Permanent School Fund, which was until 2014 reserved for Independent School Districts, Life School was able to secure the bonds to design and build Life High School, 30 miles south of Dallas in Waxahachie.
Opened for the 2015-2016 school year, Life High School took just two years to design and build despite numerous challenges, an aggressive schedule and budget.
Life High School can accommodate 1,000 students in 131,500 square feet on a 41-acre campus. Athletic facilities include a gymnasium with two practice courts and seating capacity of 1,200, locker rooms and weight room, football stadium and practice fields. The interior space includes classrooms, science and computer labs, a band and choir room, a black box theater, audio-visual lab, cafeteria, library, kitchen, administrative office space and Commons area.
After a bidding process, Life School awarded the project to The Beck Group. Having worked with Beck to renovate facilities for its other schools, Life School was confident Beck could design and construct its flagship school while establishing a design standard for future campuses. In addition to architecture and construction, Beck also did the interior design.
Beck began the architectural design in August 2013 and finalized construction documents in April 2014. Once funding was approved in June 2014, construction started. Thirteen months later, the project was completed just weeks before school opened. Beck relied on fostering collaboration between the design team, construction team, owner and the City of Waxahachie, and the use of technology to meet the schedule and come in just under budget.
Building in a Floodplain
Challenge: A portion of the school site where the athletic fields were to be was within a FEMA Flood Hazard Zone created by Grove Creek. The main access drive for the campus would also cross Grove Creek, requiring construction of a box culvert bridge. The City of Waxahachie regulated development within FEMA floodplains to ensure new facilities would not cause increased flooding.
Solution: The city required Beck to conduct a flood study to evaluate the impact of the proposed athletic fields and culvert crossing. As a result, a detention pond was added to slow down the increased water flow generated by the school site before it enters Grove Creek. The city further mandated that watershed conditions from upstream of the site be considered in the culvert crossing’s design to ensure it was large enough. City requirements increased the size of the box culvert by twice the length of the bridge originally estimated for the project, adding cost and time. Once construction was completed for the culvert crossing and athletic fields, a Letter of Map Revision was submitted to FEMA to remove the athletic fields from the floodplain.
An Undeveloped Location
Challenge: Built away from the populated part of Waxahachie, the school had no access to city sanitary sewer lines; nor was there a road connecting the school to the highway.
Solution: To build a sewer line extension to the sanitary sewer line, Beck worked with the city’s Public Works Department to negotiate with owners of the properties the pipe would have to cross to gain permission. Beck also worked with the city to build an access drive to provide entrance to the school from the highway.
Energy Efficiency, Environmental Responsibility
Challenge: Life School wanted natural light in the corridors and classrooms as well as energy efficiency and an environmentally friendly structure.
Solution: To ensure optimal natural light, the interior classrooms were built around a courtyard. With the school operating during late summer and spring, Beck also designed it with energy efficiency top of mind. Roof systems include a sloped seam metal roof on classroom wings and a modified bitumen roof on the gymnasium. To shield the Low-E insulated glass pane windows from the sun, the roof has overhangs for shade. To further reduce cooling costs, there are 4 1/2 inches of foam insulation on the roof deck and the walls have continuous insulation outside the studs. The school is equipped with low-flow plumbing and light fixtures are LED. Flooring is comprised of composite carpet tiles in classrooms, polished concrete in the Commons, cafeteria and science labs, and a maple floor in the gym. Beck also painted walls with low VOC paint. To minimize landfill additions, Beck recycled a high percentage of construction waste.
Keeping to an Aggressive Schedule
Challenge: With two years to design and build the school, and multiple schedule obstacles, there was no margin for error.
Solution: Beck relied on its Integrated Design and Build delivery method to ensure there would be no delays due to poor collaboration or missteps. The process required tight coordination between the design and construction teams, subcontractors and owner, shaving four months off construction. An architect was assigned to be onsite during construction to interpret drawings, which helped the project move quickly. They also had weekly meetings with Life School’s operations director. Beck also relied on technology to resolve design issues. By creating a Building Information Model (BIM) of the school, Beck identified and resolved clashes involving the plumbing, sprinklers, ductwork and light fixtures. The 3D model allowed the team to come up with solutions before construction began so everything would fit, preventing onsite delays.
To track punch work status, Beck issued iPads equipped with BIM 360, a cloud database, to the construction superintendent, project engineer and onsite architect.
Life High School was finished on time and under budget, despite obstacles. Beck attributes its success to its Integrated Design and Build delivery method, collaboration between the design and construction teams and with the owner and subcontractors, the use of technology and a good working relationship with the city.