Coppell Opens First ‘Net-Zero’ Elementary School in the U.S.

Students at Coppell ISD’s newest school, Richard J. Lee Elementary, are guaranteed to get an education experience unlike any other in DFW. That’s because the Gold LEED-certified, $21 million campus is the very first ‘net-zero’ energy elementary school in the country.

Built from the ground up in just eight months at Ranch Trail and Olympus Boulevard within Billingsley Cos.’ Cypress Waters development, the school is officially in the city of Dallas but part of the Coppell ISD. (Dallas annexed the property in the 1950s for a power plant.)

One of Lee Elementary's rainwater collection tanks. (This one will source an eco-pond where students can study erosion and take water samples.)
One of Lee Elementary’s rainwater collection tanks. (This one will source an eco-pond where students can study erosion and take water samples.)

The net-zero designation means that the school will produce as much energy as it uses, mainly through eco-friendly processes and building features like solar panels (there are 1,096 on the school’s roof), wind energy generators, rainwater collection systems, geothermal units, and daylight-harvesting lighting. During the next year, the school’s energy usage will net out at zero, and when the building is generating more power than it needs, it will funnel that energy back into the community’s electricity grid.

In addition to being extremely eco-conscious, Lee hopes to prepare its students for what lies beyond elementary school through a variety of cutting-edge learning and curriculum models. Its 27 “designers”—not “teachers” or
“educators,” because this is a “school of design”—will follow Apple Academy’s standards of Challenge-Based Learning, which aim to empower children through collaboration and hands-on learning to use their technology and devices to solve real-world problems.

Richard J. Lee Elementary's open-style library, pictured from above.
Richard J. Lee Elementary’s open-style library, pictured from above.

The school itself is an architectural and design feat; it’s completely flex space, with only a few movable walls and plenty of collaborative spaces and communal facilities. A team of elementary educators from CISD visited other eco-friendly schools across the country and worked with architects from SHW Santec to conceptualize and execute Lee Elementary.

The end result, a school comprised of six “houses” that each feature six classes (for kindergarten through fifth grade), intends to foster inclusivity and cross-collaboration through the shared use of four semi-traditional classrooms and co-working spaces.

Dry-erase-painted walls encourage children to draw and doodle, and an impressive outdoor classroom overlooks North Lake. Once all of its systems are up and running, TV monitors throughout the school will display statistical data about the energy the building is producing and consuming.

“In a nutshell, the school itself is a tool for learning,” says Sid Grant, assistant superintendent at CISD. “We’re starting with about 550 students, and it can grow to 740, probably within the next two years.”