The Will Smith Zoo School is the largest nature-based preschool in the country, where children ages 3-5 will spend more than half the day outdoors and visit the neighboring San Antonio Zoo daily. DBR worked with Lake Flato Architects and Guido Construction to renovate an existing building to create a flexible indoor and outdoor learning environment for up to 220 students.
In June 2019 the Will Smith Zoo School was awarded the LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, one of the first and only preschools in the United States to receive this certification. The platinum designation was earned by documenting the facility’s features designed to conserve water, reduce energy consumption, use recycled materials, and improve occupant comfort and health.
Some of the strategies implemented to improve the building’s performance include cool roof and hardscape materials to reduce urban heat island effect, low-flow plumbing fixtures to reduce water use, recycled construction materials used throughout the project, and bike racks and changing rooms to encourage alternative forms of transportation. Many of the products used in the construction and design were locally sourced. Each classroom is wrapped in regionally sourced wood taken from East Texas pines. The school does not use any paper products at all and utilize their own dishes for snack and lunch times to reduce waste.
Most of the existing MEP systems in the 20,900 square foot facility were demolished and replaced and DBR’s sustainable design team provided LEED consulting and energy modeling services. The Zoo School also boasts a photovoltaic solar power system with solar panels installed on the roof of the new Conservation Pavilion, an outdoor gathering, and a teaching area.
At the new pre-school, named for a San Antonio Zoo board member’s late son who loved the outdoors, students are encouraged to use their imaginations and get messy daily. They are also able to visit the zoo regularly, grow food in Charlie’s Garden to feed the animals, climb the rocks and stumps at Challenge Hill, bird watch, and learn about conservation and sustainability.