2016—Dr. Lee Buice Elementary

Ector County ISD—Dr. Lee Buice Elementary
Architect: Parkhill, Smith & Cooper, Inc.

The elementary school is a point of pride for the community. The school district was visionary & insistent on introducing interactive collaborative and student-owned learning at the early stages of their students’ educational experience. The school was designed as a 21st Century learning environment, including flexible, multi-functional, interactive, and efficient spaces. The school houses 6 learning neighborhoods for K-5, commons, kitchen, administrative offices, and the gymnasium.


This school is a gem situated in an economically challenged neighborhood. Most of the students live in mobile homes and come from a low socioeconomic environment. The school represents opportunity and affirmation. Through public meetings and programs that encourage community involvement and student participation, it was understood that the school provide a sense of place and define the possibilities for the students and the community.


The design of the school factored in the history of the town and the concept of the train. The spaces were organized based on levels of security and lower noise levels. Within the academic wings, there is a level of transparency; operable glass walls provide flexibility in the use of the spaces and the various pedagogical opportunities for learning and teaching. The design of the school has improved test scores in an area known for low-performing schools.


The District’s Master Plan emphasized the need for flexibility in space and pedagogy. The planning process was highly engaging and involved stakeholders, the community and the architects. The objectives included safety, integration, discovery, collaboration, transparency and community. Through design charrettes, the educational goals were revealed. The two-story academic wing was designed to provide each grade with collaboration spaces, learning studios and hubs.


Materials were selected to reduce maintenance and increase indoor air quality. The hubs & the commons area are graced with color & washed with abundant natural light due to the generous clerestories thus requiring minimal lighting. The lighting systems have controls that respond to daylighting. Outside learning areas are located immediately adjacent to the academic learning wing, & the covered playground area is located next to the commons area to connect students to the natural environment.


21C schools are usually 15% larger than traditional elementary schools. Keeping the  building consistent with elementary schools of similar size, the projected 30-year cost of ownership savings is $6.9M. Spaces like the library were eliminated to improve circulation and reduce costs by eliminating square footage. The circulation for academic spaces occurs within the hubs. Books are distributed by grade level and accessible to students without limiting group visits to the library.

School Transformation

The school was designed to be a 21C learning environment. Moveable glass partitions minimize separation and engage the students. The walls become secondary, almost invisible. The flexibility enhances project-based learning with various room sizes for one-on-one teaching or for an entire grade level. Moveable marker board walls between the Commons and the stage/black box work as a curtain and can be utilized for instruction during the day.

Stars of Distinction Star of Distinction Category Winner