Rendering of the Olathe High School

Stantec’s design for the Olathe High School in Olathe, Kansas (US) successfully accommodates a unique and complex building program, while simultaneously achieving ambitious energy and daylighting performance targets, all within a relatively tight budget.

Project Stats

Project type: Education

Location: Olathe, Kansas

Building type: High School

Floor area / stories / occupancy: 375,000 sf / 3 stories / 2000 students, 150 staff

Budget: $75m

Project stage & completion date: Construction Documents / Opens Fall 2017

Performance Baseline & Goal: ASHRAE 90.1 2010 / Architecture 2030 Goal

Design Challenge

The Olathe Unified School District’s 21st Century Program departs from a traditional high school curriculum. As such, Olathe High School demanded a bespoke architectural solution to both accommodate its programmatic requirements and express its ethos of preparing students for the future in a practical manner. Stantec was up to the challenge: Design a 375,000sf high school with a bespoke functional program to accommodate 2000 students and 150 staff all while meeting high performance targets within the constraints of a tight budget.

Goal Setting

Upon completion, the school will have a number of career and technology courses, including a 21st Century Program that specifically focuses on Green Technology. Live examples of green technology will be vital to the school’s development as it expands its syllabus. The client therefore placed sustainability high on their list of priorities.

There was also a strong focus on space and system efficiency as the typical square footage of similarly sized schools needed to be adapted for additional functions in this project. The design team needed to ensure that several key spaces could be adapted for multiple use to cut out the need for excessive floor area and to reduce energy waste. They investigated building forms, glazing ratios and specifications and renewable energy strategies in their effort to optimise the design.


The client, Olathe USD, wanted to get a better understanding of what strategies would be required to reach Net Zero Energy. To do this, the designer needs to have a grasp of the building’s potential energy use and energy production. Stantec approached the task by using Sefaira to analyse their designs and understand the expected energy use of their designs. Once this was done, it was then possible to assess the potential for offsetting energy production on site.

Selecting the Building Form

The design team created white box models to explore several possible massings, comparing them for performance. The Architecture 2030 challenge was selected as their an energy target (60% below local code for a comparable building) and the project was set up in Sefaira using ASHRAE 90.01 2010 values.

Comparative massing models analysed for energy and daylight performance using Sefaira’s SketchUp PlugInComparative massing models analysed for energy and daylight performance using Sefaira’s SketchUp PlugIn

By using feedback from Sefaira in design reviews, the team was able to pinpoint the most efficient and spatially appropriate massing. (Read our post on How to Present your Energy Analysis.) They refined the selected concept, adding more detail as the design progressed. To develop the design further, Stantec analysed daylight strategies in classrooms, shared and public spaces using the Sefaira plugin.

Selected massing modelSelected massing model

Glazing Material

One of the major design aspirations on this project was to achieve good daylight levels in all major spaces, and in particular, the classrooms. The design team compared the daylight performance of three different glazing specifications for classroom spaces, adjusting their solar heat gain coefficient and visible transmittance values. (Read our post on Key Daylighting Metrics and how to use them)

Table comparing the energy and daylight performance of three glazing options
Table comparing the energy and daylight performance of three glazing options

Daylighting in Critical Areas (Classrooms and Central Learning Commons)

In addition they tested two window to wall ratios as well as the impact of adding external shading.

Comparison of the energy and daylight performance of 3 glazing ratios and shading strategyComparison of the energy and daylight performance of 3 glazing ratios and shading strategy

Adding shading to the classrooms drastically reduced daylight levels and did not yield much savings whilst a larger glazed opening led to higher glare. In the end, the team selected glazing option 1 with the baseline window-to-wall ratio as it offered better performance overall.

 Daylight analysis resultsDaylight analysis results

All classrooms receive daylight either direct from the exterior wall or indirectly through a skylight in the Central Learning Commons. Additional analysis was done on the skylight to determine whether it performed just as well as clerestory windows.

Model showing the skylightModel showing the skylight

The team tested five glazing options, varying u-value, solar heat gain coefficient and visible transmittance properties in combination with 3 different glazing ratios and locations. These included a fully glazed skylight, a partially glazed skylight and clerestory windows to the south, east and west.

Table comparing the energy and daylight performance of glazing designs for the Central Learning CommonsTable comparing the energy and daylight performance of glazing designs for the Central Learning Commons

Net Zero Energy Feasibility Analysis

Having understood the building’s baseline performance and improving the envelope, the team used Sefaira to investigate how much energy they would need to generate onsite to achieve a net zero energy goal. It turned out that they would need to cover 80% of the roof surface with solar PVs that are 15% efficient to generate 46% of the total energy consumed per year. Although Net Zero Energy was not feasible for this project because of the limited budget and area for PVs, the client gained a better understanding of what would be required. This helped them make more informed design decisions for improved energy performance going forward.

nalysis results for reaching net zero energy statusAnalysis results for reaching net zero energy status


Josh Sawyer, Design Architect at Stantec said, “Integrating all aspects of a project is critical to our design process. This includes the planning of space that is flexible and hyper-utilized, the aesthetics of the form and space, the performance and sustainable effectiveness of systems, as well as the learning opportunities afforded by the integration of all of these items. From an architectural standpoint, Sefaira provides the quick tools we need as designers to analyse and communicate our design and its performance.

Sefaira analysis has enabled the Stantec team to better understand and evaluate the impact of design changes on the overall project performance and are equipped with the data needed to meaningfully balance cost and performance. The concise presentation of cause and effect throughout the design process has helped to clarify trade-offs and has had a positive impact on the decision-making process for all stakeholders.

By using performance analysis to investigate design options, envelope properties, and renewable strategies, Stantec were able to select the ideal building form, fabric specifications and

renewable energy generators for optimum energy and daylight performance. They were able to create a design that meets the ambitious Architecture 2030 goals and enable the client evaluate performance, aesthetic and financial considerations to make informed decisions and find the best overall solution. The team plans to harness additional improvements by using Sefaira during the HVAC and MEP systems sizing phase.

Cross section through schoolCross section through school

About Stantec

Established in 1954, Stantec unites more than 14,000 employees working in over 230 locations across the globe. They collaborate across disciplines and industries to bring buildings, energy and resource, and infrastructure projects to life. Stantec provides professional consulting in planning, engineering, architecture, interior design, landscape architecture, surveying, environmental sciences, project management, and project economics — beginning at the intersection of community, creativity, and client relationships.