When construction
must meet high
environmental standards.

How did we construct a cutting-edge building within a limited time frame and still exceed the requirements for LEED Platinum status?

Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy High School

Our knowledge of and experience with technological advancements and sustainable materials, along with our understanding of LEED standards, allows us to construct innovative and environmentally progressive buildings.

“With personnel dedicated to monitoring and documenting every product used, we were we able to capture the maximum LEED points possible, exceeding the number of points required for LEED Platinum status.”

– Daryl Lesny, Project Manager

The Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy High School, an institution dedicated to preparing students for technology jobs of the future, is the very first school in Chicago to achieve LEED platinum status. As a state of the art campus, featuring a number of sustainable and environmentally conscious innovations, the project was both complex and multifaceted requiring a great deal of coordination between various parties including Chicago Public Schools, the Public Building Commission, STR Partners, NIA Architects of Chicago, and a number of contractors, subcontractors and vendors.

Beyond the usual though not inconsiderable concerns, our greatest challenge was effectively implementing the requirements for LEED platinum status. This meant a large scale coordination of efforts between involved parties, ensuring that the materials used met LEED requirements (were sustainable, recycled, and locally sourced) and fulfilled design specs, all while keeping to the prescribed budget.

Built on the site of an old industrial manufacturing plant, the 16 acre site required some remediation before construction could begin including the removal of underground storage tanks. The new building design specified three floors and included an Olympic-sized swimming pool, gymnasium, auditorium, full kitchen, administrative offices, science labs, classrooms and computer labs. Technological innovations, which helped establish the building’s LEED platinum status, included a geo-exchange heat pump system, a solar thermal hot water heating system, low-flow fixtures, and recycled and locally sourced materials.

The three story, 270,000 square foot building—while remarkable for its innovative and creative design and scope—represented only one component of the project. The campus design also included a number of thoughtfully constructed outdoor features including walking paths, a community garden, a learning garden, and two rain gardens for storm-water control. One of the school’s more original and advanced features is a vegetated roof with bird habitat which includes replanted trees from the original site, along with a cistern to harvest rainwater and irrigate raised garden plots.

Like any large-scale construction project, the construction of the high school presented a number of challenges. Situated in a densely populated neighborhood, the site required careful management and sensitivity to community needs, including meeting quite specific local hiring goals. More complexity was added by the very tight schedule: with enrollment complete and the start date already determined by the school calendar, there was no option to extend the timeline.

As the primary contractor,  not only were we able to effectively manage and direct the project and to bring it to a successful conclusion, but also to exceed LEED platinum requirements and do it within a fixed and limited time frame.

The biggest challenge of all was to present itself much later in the process than anyone could have predicted. The original plan was to build a standard high school, but at a late date CPS made a decision to reprogram the building, making it a STEM school instead. For our team, that meant the addition of a large amount of work with very little time to spare. Even so, we were able to accommodate the client, make the changes, and still maintain the original timeline.

In the end—despite weather concerns, large scale coordination efforts, and a late and involved change to the building’s design—the new Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy was completed within the original timeframe, achieved its platinum status by earning more LEED points than was necessary, and is expected to return energy savings in excess of original projections. As the first of its kind in Chicago and as an overwhelming success, the building is slated to serve as a prototype for future environmentally conscious building projects.