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.”


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  • rjd

    “Its 27 ‘designers’—not ‘teachers’ or ‘educators,’ because this is a ‘school of design’”

    Ugh. They are still “teachers” of design, though, right? Their primary job is to teach? An art teacher may be an artist but within the school dynamic is still a teacher. Their being an artist does not negate their position of educator.

  • Peter Kurilecz

    How much more or less did it cost to build this building?

    • sheebanator

      It says $21 million in the article.

  • Kyle Rensmeyer

    I remember going to Lee Elementary about 20 years ago. Must’ve torn down the old building and built a new one. That’s the only way that bomb shelter could be LEED certified…

  • Klaughlin

    I went to the original Lee Elementary. This is the best possible scenario. The outcomes will be signifigant. Much better preparation for future schooling and less emphasis on testing and the typical school system. I’m concerned that the outside will not provide as much of an educational experience, need to rid the “nature-deficit disorder” and create an outdoor classroom. That’s more important in my book, the connection of man and nature. Or kid and nature in this case.

  • Biff

    Net Zero academy is right up there with Juno elementary and Prodigy day school. I can only hope they will go to AOL university one day.

  • Jesse

    Not a design school its an elementary school my kids love it

  • jen

    I don’t always perceive different as good- but I have to say- this elementary school is good. The kids are actually excited to get up and go to school- all of the parents are coming to realize- we- and our children- are fortunate to be a part of this. Even children with learning challenges are being reached in ways that the ordinary classroom atmoshphere doesn’t accomplish. They are engaged and encouraged to think “outside the box” – they still have to meet all of the lovely state curriculum requirements- but they are approaching it in a way that the students will actually benefit from and want to learn more. I was skeptical- but I have experienced the excitement first hand- and can see the excitement and desire to learn once again in my children!

  • David Berryman

    I believe Irving ISD has had a net-zero campus for a few years now, Lady Bird Johnson Middle School.

    • big

      that is a middle school, this is an elementary

  • A. B.

    They tried the ‘no walls’ thing in the 70s. By the 80s there were walls.

  • Terry02124

    Kudos to all involved! What an exciting, innovative learning environment this must be!

  • Coppell

    I was lucky enough to visit this School… Coppell ISD put in so much effort in designing even minute details.. am sure all kids will be benefitted. Kudos to principal and “Designers”.,. Hope Coppell ISD builds similar Middle and High Schools for these kids to continue learning ….

  • Michael M

    Hello and congratulations on your net zero school concept. We believe that we have the technology and concept that can be helpful in making your design process easier and increase the possibility of Net Zero Schools becoming affordable and a reality. It is based upon our Radiant Heating Glass and their use with on site or near-on-site solar. It is explained here:

    We would welcome the opportunity to provide any additional info that you would require.

    Again, nice project!