Educare of Arizona obtains LEED® Silver Certification

Phoenix, AZ – Educare of Arizona, led by Southwest Human Development, has succeeded in obtaining LEED Silver certification for its new early education center in Phoenix. RDG Planning & Design worked with the team to materialize their vision of a sustainable, ecological home-away-from-home for children aged birth to five years. The Educare Learning Network now includes five facilities that have been certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. Educare pursued LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, because the program recognizes sustainable aspects of high-quality buildings. The project incorporated notable approaches to community connections, integration of ecology, and innovative energy management.

A key partner in the project, Balsz Elementary School District established a sustainable trajectory for the project by co-locating the facility with Brunson-Lee Elementary School. Sited in a neighborhood area, there are numerous destinations within walking distance of the school. RDG incorporated a strong connection to the street for pedestrians, since many families commute via stroller. The site also hosts abundant native landscaping that offers experiential qualities for children and also requires minimal irrigation. The contextual landscaping and pedestrian access help make Educare relevant to the families it serves.

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Designing the project around nature resulted in spaces with ample light and a connection to the outdoors. For example, the classrooms are organized around an exterior courtyard which enhances the connection to the outdoors while also economizing on the built footprint. Because glare can be distracting for learning and also adds considerable heat to
the space, all of the windows are shaded from direct light. Classrooms on the east and west sides of the courtyard have child-sized niches with views to the north. Significantly, all classrooms have central daylight monitors that provide an optimal learning environment.

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The team delivered an energy-efficient project by using high-performance wall design and including on-site energy production. The walls, roof, and floor are all designed with attention to the details. This minimizes infiltration and makes the insulation more efficient. The high thermal mass of concrete block walls also helps stabilize the temperature, keeping interior spaces cool during the afternoon heat. The building has a solar water-heating system that reduces the amount of energy needed for hot water. The roof and electrical service are also designed to accommodate photovoltaic solar panels that may be installed in the future. Protecting the indoors from the sun’s heat, and simultaneously
using that heat to reduce energy loads, are critical to the building’s efficiency. Educare Arizona is designed to perform 26 percent better than required by energy codes.

Overall, the project represents sustainability best practices, paired with design responses to the arid desert climate. Because of the team’s emphasis on high-performance design, the facility will provide decades of efficient operation and, more importantly, a first-class setting for the families served by Educare.

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RDG has been working with the Educare Learning Network for more than a decade as a trusted partner to support the strategic development of a national network of world-class early education facilities aimed at breaking the circle of poverty through early intervention.  Each of the Educare facilities across the country is part of a national research project working to capture best practices and radiate those out to other centers throughout the country.  The RDG team has served the network in strategic planning, architecture, playground design, landscape design, and interior design roles for the vast majority of the facilities across the entire network.

To learn more about RDG’s Early Learning work visit our project pages.

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