Cypress Waters: Educating for the Future

Coppell’s new Richard J. Lee Elementary is unlike any other in the nation.

This package was originally published in Dallas-Fort Worth Real Estate Review.

Students at Coppell ISD’s newest school, Richard J. Lee Elementary, are guaranteed to get an education experience unlike any other in North Texas. That’s because the Gold LEED-certified, $21 million campus is the first net-zero-energy elementary school in the country. Built in just eight months on 70 acres at Ranch Trail and Olympus Boulevard within Cypress Waters, 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.)

The net-zero designation means that the school will produce as much energy as it uses, mainly through ecofriendly 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.

And once all of its internal monitoring systems are up and running, TVs stationed throughout the building will display data about the building’s consumption and production. “In a nutshell, the school itself is a tool for learning,” says Sid Grant, assistant superintendent for business and support services at CISD. “One of our rainwater collection tanks will be used to irrigate the lawn and feed into an ecopond. Students will be able to do studies on erosion and look at water under a microscope.”

Named for a school that closed in the district to make way for Coppell’s New Tech High, Lee is a clear step away from eight “footprint” elementary schools built in the district during the 1980s and 1990s. The school opened in the fall of 2014 with about 550 students; its enrollment capacity is 740.

Besides its energy efficiency, the school stands out for following Apple Academy’s standards of challenge-based learning. In essence, children learn to problem-solve through the use of technology. The school itself, which is flexible in every sense of the word, features movable walls and communal facilities that are shared between both grades and classes.

Lee Elementary marks a happy ending to a story that began with CISD suing Billingsley Co. over concerns that Cypress Waters would overwhelm the district’s already crowded facilities. A settlement that included the sale of 122 acres on North Lake from Billingsley to CISD in 2008 opened the door for CISD to build an elementary school, a high school, two middle schools, and/or an administrative building. “Going forward, we should have plenty of land to accommodate the needs for the growth,” Grant says.

Lucy Billingsley says Lee Elementary is a model for schools in the future. “We’re being environmentally sensitive and working on how to refine anything that we might do to be environmentally smarter,” she says. “How fabulous it is that it’s a school system that sets the bar?”

This story originally appeared in the Dallas-Fort Worth Real Estate Review.

Read all stories from the Cypress Waters Anatomy of a Deal package:

Creating a Lakeside Legacy
7-Eleven’s New Heaven
Nation Building
Workplace of the Future
A New Multifamily Paradigm
The 25-Year Vision
Educating for the Future
Embracing the Great Outdoors
A Time to Be Bold: Lucy Billingsley


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