Creating Green 21st Century Learning Environments

Tracy Hucul, AIA, LEED AP
Tracy Hucul
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Creating Green 21st Century Learning Environments

In recent years, a push for greener architecture has made its way through the architecture industry, leading clients and architects alike to embrace sustainable designs that improve quality of life and protects the environment.

Among all the organizations dedicated to the promotion of sustainable practices, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) stands at the helm. Their LEED accreditation process is an important program for the design, construction, and operation of green buildings. LEED accredited buildings have a reduced environmental footprint, create healthier environments for its occupants, and provide operational cost savings by reducing energy and water use.   
More and more building projects today, be it new construction or renovations, are planned around a strategy seeking LEED accreditation, as is the case for the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). DCPS has been a strong champion in the promotion of sustainable practices as a means to provide healthy and inclusive learning environments. DCPS leverages LEED certified schools to promote conservational behavior while also providing students, staff, and the community with an engaging environment. These principles were the backbone in the design for the renovation and modernization of Kramer Middle School, the first school renovation in the District to earn LEED for Schools Platinum certification by USGBC, as reported by Quinn Evans Architects.  


Located in the Anacostia neighborhood of the District of Columbia, Kramer Middle School currently teaches students in grades 6th through 8th. Stephen Elliot Kramer, the school’s official namesake, served the city’s public school system as an educator and school executive for over 40 years. He was also a trustee for George Washington University, his alma mater.  
Kramer Middle School was first built by the Ross Engineering Company in 1943, as a junior high school instructing grades 7th through 9th, and was designed by Nathan C. Wyeth in the Colonial Revival style with masonry walls, limestone belt courses, and porticos at the entries.  
In 1955, as part of the civil rights movement and following the historic Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, many schools within the District began the integration of white and black students, including Anacostia High School and Kramer Junior High.

A photo of a large red brick school building whose entrance says "Kramer Junior High School."
A photo of a colorful school hallway.
A photo of students reading in a school library.

Building Design

Sustainable design is at the core of every project at Quinn Evans Architects. At Kramer Middle School, QEA committed to a LEED certification process, starting with a LEED kick-off meeting introducing the sustainability goals of the project. This process continued through the project’s three phases involving workshops with the multi-disciplined design team and DCPS to develop a sustainable strategy for both the building and the site. Both passive and active solutions where explored and all opportunities to create an energy and environmentally friendly design were pursued.  

Ultimately, the design team implemented a variety of practical solutions intended to achieve high performance, and did this within the confines of an existing building.

A Green Renewal

Building a new structure from the ground up may not always be the best or even most sustainable method of construction. On the other hand, renovating an existing building greatly reduces construction waste resulting from demolition, as well as the need for construction materials, since the core of the building is already built.  
Even more so, maintaining schools within a densely populated area is not only beneficial for the school, by virtue of close proximity to its student population, but also to the community, by providing a nearby and accessible public facility. With this in mind, the modernization and renovation of the existing Kramer Middle School was key to protecting and strengthening this community cornerstone. Furthermore the existing building had a number of characteristics beneficial for the enhancement of learning environments and creation of a high-performance building. For example, the design of the school’s exterior, with its numerous large windows and thick masonry walls, provide for ample daylighting in classrooms and aided in providing thermal comfort within the spaces. 
Many of the lessons learned in restoring historic buildings have informed QEA’s focus on sustainability. We apply our deep knowledge of long-term building performance together with advanced technologies that allow for optimal building efficiency, durability, and longevity; a practice used and exemplified at Kramer Middle School. Our success at this school highlights the notion that through transformation, existing buildings are truly the greenest buildings.

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