Andes Central Fueled By Propane Award

Construction workers are shown last January putting the finishing touches on the exterior of the new Andes Central school building in Lake Andes. The TSP architecture and engineering firm of Sioux Falls won the $10,000 top prize in a contest for its incorporation of fuel efficiency into the project. In turn, TSP donated the $10,000 prize to the Andes Central school district.

LAKE ANDES — For the Andes Central school district, energy efficiency has paid off in more ways than one.

The school district built a 55,000-square-foot addition for the high school that connected to the 25,000-square-foot elementary and middle school. The project, which was completed last January, united the district’s 350 students under one roof.

PERC Propane awarded its top prize of $10,000 to the TSP architecture and engineering firm of Sioux Falls for the energy-saving practices in the new Andes Central building project.

In turn, TSP donated the $10,000 to the school district, which will use the money for new playground equipment.

Andes Central school officials were surprised by the announcements on two counts, according to board chairman Debbra Houseman.

“We were pretty impressed that (TSP) won the award. We didn’t know they were going to enter the project in the competition or that they were going to donate the prize money to the school district,” she said.

“(TSP officials) were actually contacted by the contest sponsors who said, ‘You should submit (this project) because it’s a great opportunity and a great example of using effecient energy sources for this school district.’”

The district remains grateful for the architectural firm’s decision to donate the $10,000, Houseman said. “We have a group of elementary teachers making plans for what we need for playground equipment and picking items out,” she added.

From the outset, the Andes Central school board took energy costs into consideration for the new addition, Houseman said. The high school students had been attending the landlocked 1930s structure across town, which showed a number of deficiencies including wasted energy.

“We had a long discussion about the kind of heating that we would use in the new high school,” she said. “We use a heat pump for the elementary and middle school with a boiler system as a backup, but we decided propane was the most efficient for the new addition.”

The high school will operate totally with propane, while the elementary and middle school will continue using the heat pump and boiler system.

Andes Central officials wanted to upgrade facilities in order to provide more educational opportunities for students. The district also wanted to match the newer facilities of surrounding schools.

Superintendent Debera Lucas emphasized three primary goals for the new addition: the flexibility to meet future needs; a reflection of the unique make-up of the district, with American Indians comprising 75 percent of the student enrollment; and the ability to meet ambitious sustainability objectives.

TSP created a design that prioritized those goals while meeting the budget of a small school district. The resulting high school stood out to the judges of the Propane Project of the Year awards, earning the contest’s grand prize for Sioux Falls-based architect Chase Kramer and mechanical engineer Roger Nicholas.

In order to meet Andes Central’s future needs, TSP created 12 flexible classrooms with multiple uses in mind. These include science “classatories” with movable fixtures and furniture to easily transform from classrooms to laboratories and back again.

The building’s original gym was converted to a K-12 library with new windows allowing more light, and it became the heart of the campus. A corridor linking the new high school to the existing cafeteria forms an outdoor courtyard that can serve as a protected classroom space.

Tributes to the district’s American Indian values appear throughout the school. In the corridor, banners feature characteristics of good students written in both English and the Sioux language Dakota.

“You can see kids taking pride in a school that was designed for them,” Lucas said.

The school district wanted to achieve LEED — Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — values for the building shell, glazing and insulation. The design went beyond what would have been required by energy codes.

The project reflected the fact that the school district has no access to natural gas for heating, according to TSP officials. In addition, the design took into account school land earmarked for future expansion and the local technicians’ familiarity with propane boilers.

The design also took advantage of the shared lunchroom, staff and activity space all under one roof, Houseman said. In addition, the interaction has opened up opportunities for a mentorship program between older and younger students, she added.

The energy savings represent another advantage to placing the entire district under one roof, Houseman said. However, the continuous flooding near the school since last March has prompted the district to delay any action on selling the 1930s building.

“We wanted to keep the old school in case we needed to move into it. But now, the (current) school is a safe distance from the flooding,” she said. “The city just spent a bunch of money to build a dike to protect the lift station. The water is receding, and the highway (18/281/50 east of town) is out from under the water.”

In addition to the $10,000 donation, the end of flooding would prove another major reason for celebration in the school district, Houseman said.

“Some guard rail needs to be put in, and then they should be ready to open the highway,” she said. “That would be tremendous for the city and the school district.”

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