The Monarch School’s Chrysalis achieved Gold certification under the US Green Building Council’s LEED for New Construction Rating System – making Monarch the highest rated LEED certified K-12 school in Texas.
Head of School and Founder Dr. Marty Webb said, “We are delighted to have achieved such high scores from both green building programs, especially since we started pursuing DEES and LEED certifications late in our design process. We are already pursuing the ENERGY STAR label and LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance certification.” Only two other K-12 schools in Texas are registered for LEED-EB.
Monarch’s Executive Board President David Matthiesen said, “We wanted to build green but we thought LEED and ENERGY STAR would cause exorbitant costs. Ultimately, we took a fact-based leap of faith, and learned firsthand that building green is economical, practical, meaningful and relevant to students, particularly ours with autism / Asperger’s, attention deficit and hyperactivity, and other neurological disorders.”
The school’s sustainability expert and advisor Mark Robinson, founder of Momentum Bay, a Houston-based green management consulting and marketing boutique, confirmed the business case that encouraged the board, design team and construction team, “Early studies like Greg Kats’ ‘Greening America’s Schools: Costs and Benefits’ (2006) and others show that students in other green schools achieved better test scores, attendance and health. These schools enjoyed 20 times more lifecycle benefits than the small zero-to-two percent upfront premium for green building back then. Given the nation’s cumulative 12-year experience on 10,000+ ENERGY STAR labeled buildings, and nearly 5,000 LEED certified projects, it was clear that sustainable best practices could yield even greater savings for Monarch.”
Ensuring a safe environment for students and reducing long-term operating costs through energy efficiency were central to Chrysalis’ green building strategies. Energy modeling and ENERGY STAR’s Target Finder tool confirmed both. Chrysalis is projected to prevent 33 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than a conventionally designed K-12 school, and use 33 percent less energy, saving more than $170,000 on utility bills over the next 25 years. These savings are worth more than a 13 percent discount on all design professionals’ fees.
Shelly Pottorf, the project’s lead architect said, “Being in a sustainable environment provides a significant advantage to the development of children with special education needs, like Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), the prevalence of which has soared from 1 in 1000 (1990) to 1 in 100 children (2010). The Monarch School’s results suggest that learning and playing on a green campus in sustainable classrooms would reasonably benefit all children, families and even faculty.” Pottorf added, “Daylighting, outdoor views and better air quality – possibly the most critical green building strategies for healthy buildings – have been shown to improve students’ health, attendance, test scores and overall productivity. In fact, these are the discoveries driving green school initiatives such as LEED for Schools, ASHRAE’s Advanced Energy Design Guide, and the Collaborative for High Performance Schools.”
The Monarch School will maintain healthier indoor air via green cleaning practices and integrated pest management (IPM) strategies. After their first year in the new green school, teachers are already noticing improvements. Exposure to indoor air pollutants could have diminished students’ ability to focus.
The new special education facility is also serving Monarch as a teaching tool about sustainability and the environment. The students even interviewed Mayor Annise Parker about her plans for greening Houston.
Science teacher Richard Klein added, “Monarch’s curriculum integrates sustainability and clean tech with science, mathematics, engineering and technology (SMET) and other disciplines via several hands-on activities that teach leadership, entrepreneurship, neighborly respect and hospitality, as well as resource conservation for the great outdoors.”
As it prepares to complete its green campus with two additional greener buildings, The Monarch School hopes that its underdog success story will inspire other schools. Monarch hopes that others will obtain their best possible grades for student performance by certifying independently building design, construction, operations and fiscal performance.
One parent commented, “Students typically receive objective feedback – grades and recognition from their teachers – when they overachieve. So, why wouldn’t all of the United States’ 105,000+ public and private K-12 schools pursue the same, bringing home a ‘special’ education report card to parents every year?”
To learn about Chrysalis’ green building strategies, visit