Living Lab @ Tates Creek High School: Connecting Green Careers to Green Schools

December 07, 2020

Tates Creek High School (Fayette County Public Schools, Lexington KY) was built in 1964 and renovated in 1992. In 2017 building occupants and stakeholders began developing a shared vision for a greener, healthier, more efficient facility, strategically and purposefully designed for TCHS's new Career Academy model and informed by student and faculty design innovation ideas. TCHS’s annual EUI hovered around 75. Students, faculty, district facility professionals, local architect firm TateHillJacobs Architects and engineering firm CMTA Consulting Engineers knew that achieving a 20 EUI would mean significant reduction in carbon footprint and $220,000 annual savings. Collectively, this team of stakeholders and professionals made the tough decision to break from precedent. Instead of renovating the existing building, a new Tates Creek High School would be built on the same campus.
In March 2019 the endeavor launched, laser focused on designing a flexible, inspiring, green and healthy school that would propel TCHS’s Career Academy model to the next level. Immediately, FCPS Facilities and Design along with TateHillJacobs Architects and CMTA Consulting Engineers made a commitment to engage students and faculty. January 2020, Tates Creek HS’s Living Lab Team launched, training and equipping students to serve as ambassadors and liaisons between the design team and parents, students, teachers and neighbors. At the launch, students eagerly asked What will our new school look like? Will we have more natural light? How will our new school reduce our carbon footprint? How will each Career Academy wing be unique? Once construction began, the Design 101 Team evolved into Living Lab Team and discussion focused on What is ICF? Why was this footprint chosen? Where could solar panels be installed? Throughout each Design 101 and Living Lab meeting, FCPS connected students with architecture and engineering career pathways to provide them with unique perspectives into the critical STEM, artistic, collaborative, regulatory, fiscal and environmental elements that must join forces to bring a school renovation from concept to completion. Each meeting includes an interview with project professionals like architects, engineers, stormwater experts, landscape architects and general contractor that asks questions we know our students are asking themselves: What were you doing in high school to prepare for your career? What was your journey: was it straight, or did you make several stops along the way? What do you love most about your job and your contributions to our new school? What surprised you the most about your chosen profession?

Two months after meeting in person, Tates Creek HS’s Living Lab Team was forced to move online. No longer able to build models or navigate architectural drawings in person, TCHS’s Living Lab Team swiftly pivoted to topics uniquely suitable for online discussion. Drone footage kept students informed and engaged as construction progressed while TateHillJacobs Architects solicited critical student insight on design choices (color, common space design, furniture selection), behind-the-scenes glimpses (HVAC/lighting design, permeable pavers, low-VOC materials) and demonstrated the critical value and application of REVIT information modeling software in building design.

Despite having to move Living Lab Team meetings online, students and design professionals continue to achieve their three primary goals: incorporating green infrastructure with instructional strategies, equipping students with the data and tools to serve as liaisons between the project and school community and providing meaningful experiences for students to understand the myriad and diverse career pathways that are part of a school construction project. Through TCHS’s Living Lab Team, students are introduced to various sustainable, high performance components such as permeable pavement, on-site bio-filtration, low-flow plumbing fixtures, and CO2 sensors. They learn about passive solar design, energy and water conservation, how renovations impact stormwater runoff, why building orientation matters, how to calculate project cost, and how to conduct a project life-cycle analysis. Participating architects and engineers are eager to share their experiences with students and answer their questions, such as: Do engineers have to apply their understanding of ratios and fractions to design lighting and HVAC systems? (Most definitely!) What role do angles play in helping architects design classrooms, auditoriums, cafeterias, and corridors? (Critical.) Does increased daylighting decrease our school’s carbon footprint? (Let’s find out.)


Students attended


Staff attended


Additional Volunteers attended


Students will be impacted this year

Intended impact of project

Reduced environmental impact
Improved occupant health & performance
Increased environmental & sustainability literacy