Beck Helps Life School Fulfill its Vision of a Dedicated High School Campus,
On-Time and Under-Budget
By Louis Sierra, AIA, LEED AP BC&C and Jim Talkington, LEED AP
Founded in 1998, Life School is one of the most successful charter school
systems in Texas. With 5,200 K-12 students on seven campuses, Life School
needed a dedicated charter high school. Positioning itself to be the first
charter school in Texas to access the Permanent School Fund, which was,
until 2014, reserved for Independent School Districts, Life School was able
to secure the bonds to design and build Life High School 30 miles south of
Dallas in Waxahachie, Texas.
for the 2015-2016 school year, Life High School took just two years to
design and build, despite numerous challenges, an aggressive schedule and a
Life High School can accommodate 1,000 students in 131,500-square-feet on a
41-acre campus. Athletic facilities include a gymnasium with two practice
courts and a seating capacity of 1,200, a football stadium, a weight room,
locker rooms, and practice fields. The interior space includes classrooms,
science and computer labs, a band and choir room, a black box theater, an
audio-visual lab, a cafeteria, library, kitchen, administrative office
space, and a commons area.
After a bidding process, Life School awarded the project to The Beck Group.
Having worked with Beck in the past to renovate facilities for its other
schools, Life School was confident Beck could design and construct its
flagship school while establishing a design standard for future campuses. In
addition to architecture and construction, Beck also executed the interior
Beck began the architectural design in August 2013, and finalized
construction documents in April 2014. Once funding was approved in June
2014, construction started. Thirteen months later, the project was completed
just weeks before school opened. Beck relied on fostering collaboration
between the design team, construction team, the owner and the City of
Waxahachie. Beck also relied on the use of technology to meet the schedule,
and to come in just under budget.
Building in a Floodplain
A portion of the school site designated for the athletic fields was
located within a FEMA Flood Hazard Zone, or 100-year floodplain, created by
Grove Creek. In addition to athletic fields, the main access drive for the
campus would also cross Grove Creek, requiring construction of a box culvert
bridge. The City of Waxahachie regulated development within FEMA floodplains
to ensure new facilities would not cause increased flooding.
city required Beck to conduct a flood study to evaluate the impacts of the
proposed athletic fields and culvert crossing. As a result, a detention pond
was added to hold and slow down the increase in water flow generated by the
school site before it enters Grove Creek.
The city further mandated that watershed conditions from upstream of the
site be considered in the culvert crossing’s design to ensure it was large
enough. City requirements increased the size of the box culvert by twice the
length of the bridge originally estimated for the project, adding cost and
time. Once construction was completed for the culvert crossing and athletic
fields, a Letter of Map Revision was submitted to FEMA to remove the
athletic fields from the floodplain.
An Undeveloped Location
Built away from the populated part of Waxahachie, the school had access
to neither the city sanitary sewer lines nor a road connecting to the
To build a sewer line extension to the sanitary sewer line, Beck worked with
the city’s Public Works Department to negotiate with owners of the
properties the pipe would have to cross in order to gain permission. Beck
also worked with the city to build an access drive to provide entrance to
the school from the highway.
Energy Efficiency, Environmental Responsibility
Life School wanted natural light in the corridors and classrooms, as
well as energy efficiency and an environmentally friendly structure.
School administrators wanted a design with modern aesthetics using natural
light. Due to the school operating during the hot months of summer and
spring, Beck designed it with energy efficiency in mind. To ensure optimal
natural light, the interior classrooms were built around a courtyard.
Roof systems include a sloped seam metal roof on classroom wings and a
modified bitumen roof on the gymnasium. To shield the Low-E insulated glass
pane windows from the sun, the roof has overhangs for shade. To further
reduce cooling costs, there are 4 ½ inches of foam insulation on the roof
deck, and the walls have continuous insulation outside the studs.
school is equipped with low-flow plumbing, and many of the light fixtures
are LED. Flooring is comprised of composite carpet tiles in classrooms, a
maple floor in the gym, and polished concrete in the Commons, cafeteria and
science labs. While most schools use vinyl composition tiles, Beck used
sheet linoleum in the corridors. Sheet linoleum is made of recycled
materials, produces no off-gassing, and only requires mopping. Beck also
painted walls with low VOC paint.
To minimize landfill additions, Beck recycled a high percentage of
Keeping to an Aggressive Schedule
With two years to design and build the school, and multiple schedule
obstacles, including the flood study, sewer line extension, and bridge
redesign, there was no margin for error.
Beck relied on its Integrated Design and Build delivery method to ensure
there would be no delays due to poor collaboration or missteps. The process
required tight coordination between the design and construction teams, the
subcontractors, and the owner. These efforts shaved some four months off
Beck assigned an architect to be on-site during construction to interpret
drawings, which helped the project move quickly. They also had weekly
meetings with Life School’s operations director who was frequently on-site,
offering suggestions based on his experience with charter schools. The
design and construction teams worked closely to expedite the submittal
process, and RFIs and submittals were done online using Newforma Project
Beck relied on technology to resolve design issues, such as clashes between
the above-ceiling systems. By creating a Building Information Model (BIM) of
the school, Beck identified and resolved clashes involving the plumbing,
sprinklers, ductwork, and light fixtures. The 3D model allowed the team to
come up with solutions before construction began so everything would fit,
preventing onsite delays.
To expedite construction, Beck divided the building into five areas,
focusing on building the most important areas first. Similarly, conflicts
were resolved in the 3D model by area. The first phase included the
gymnasium, because of its size and height, along with the classrooms and
administration area. Other areas followed. Using this sequencing strategy,
Beck kept subcontractor crews busy, letting them move from one section to
another without delay.
To track punch work status, Beck issued iPads® equipped with BIM 360, a
cloud database, to the construction superintendent, project engineer and
on-site architect. Using the iPads®, photos were taken of areas needing work
and items were assigned to subcontractors, who could print a list of their
specific tasks. Subcontractors recorded task completions with a button
click, making it easier to track status versus paper lists.
Beck worked with the city’s Building Department, gaining its confidence that
the building was safe and near enough to completion that it allowed
furniture to be moved in three weeks before issuing the Certificate of
Life High School was finished on-time and under-budget, despite obstacles.
Beck attributes its success to the Integrated Design and Build delivery
method, the collaboration between the design and construction teams and with
the owner and subcontractors, the use of technology, and the good working
relationship with the city.
About the Authors
Louis Sierra, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, is an Associate Architect for Beck
Architecture, and Jim Talkington, LEED AP, is a Senior Project Manager at
The Beck Group. For more information, visit