Schoolhouse rocks

Kendyl Depoali Middle School

The Kendyl Depoali Middle School’s design is not just appealing, but it’s practical.

The Kendyl Depoali Middle School’s design is not just appealing, but it’s practical.

Photo By Ashley Hennefer

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Buildings in the Washoe County School District may not be known for environmental pioneering—until now. Following in the footsteps of Yvonne Shaw Middle School’s award-winning environmental design, Kendyl Depoali Middle School’s modern and sustainable campus in south Reno has been an experiment since its opening in fall 2009. With brightly colored walls and a sleek aesthetic, the facility certainly looks like a vision for the future, and it provides an immersive learning ecology for students and the community. As the school enters its third year, the district is taking notes from the campus’ book for upcoming projects.

The 192,000-square-feet school cost $38 million to construct. It was funded by the 2002 Rollover Bond voted for by taxpayers, and it houses more than 1,400 students in grades six through eight. At $210 per square foot, the building is not only the most environmentally friendly in the district, but it’s also fiscally efficient.

“We were really excited about the cost of this building,” said Elizabeth Wright, director of Capital Projects Accountability and Public Relations at WCSD. “It offset other budget problems at the time.”

The return on investment alone has made the project worth doing. Based on estimates made by engineers and architects at the beginning of the project, the sustainable features will save around 60 percent more in utility bills compared to other middle schools. A ground source heat pump keeps water temperatures regulated and reduces the need for both cooling and heating, stabilizing comfortable classroom temperatures. “Thermal comfort is big for student achievement,” said Wright.

Smart windows were also installed, allowing teachers to control airflow in their classrooms. An automated lighting system takes advantage of Reno’s abundant sunshine, and lights only turn on when necessary; teachers and students rely almost exclusively on natural light. A Cool Roof reflects heat and keeps birds at bay. Nearly every material contributes to sustainability or student comfort, right down to the bright wall paint.

The school intentionally resembles a science lab to increase the connection between student and building. The mechanics of the structure are showcased through clear windows, supplemented with flat-screen televisions playing videos that demonstrate their function for the students. The practical display is also metaphorically transparent, allowing for the public to see how tax money has been implemented.

Depoali has set the standard as a unique learning environment that fosters inquisition, exploration, and kinesthetic learning. To continue this momentum throughout the district, other restoration projects are in motion. A bill passed during the recent legislative session led to the creation of the School Works Project, which allocates $92 million over the course of two to three years to revitalizing schools. Sixteen elementary schools have been redesigned with new windows, and nine more are in the works, not including 10 middle and high schools that will also see updating.

Despite monetary constraints, the district aims to make sustainability a priority in recognition of Depoali’s success. “It’s tough to argue with the cost of the building and the sustainability,” Wright said. “It’s a very efficient building that is extremely good for the students.”