2019—Pieper Ranch Middle School

Comal ISD—Pieper Ranch Middle School
Architect: Pfluger Architects

As one of the fastest growing districts in the nation, this community is experiencing the challenges of transitioning from rural to suburban. With this in mind, the district needed a middle school that would be flexible in use and purpose. The open and collaborative result can evolve with the changing needs of instruction and increasing student enrollment. A 70-foot change in grade led to a terraced, circular layout around a busy, activity-filled courtyard that serves as a town square.

Design—Star of DistinctionDesign

Spaces are organized along a primary circulation path. Its curvilinear shape avoids dead-ends and helps students get quickly between classes anywhere along the path. The encircled courtyard serves as a secure outdoor learning environment that can accommodate the entire student body as well as larger community events. As the path itself bends and widens, with places for Project-Based Learning and opportunities for interaction, it serves as a campus Main Street and nurtures a sense of belonging.


The district chose the site to address growth in communities located more than an hour from existing schools. Now, travel time for families is less than 15 minutes. The property’s slope and vegetation limited development. By respecting these challenges and thoughtfully arranging the school and fields, the site retains its unique character. An emphasis on flexibility created opportunities for shared spaces, minimizing the school’s footprint. The resulting construction cost was $1.2M under budget.

Sustainability—Star of DistinctionSustainability

Aspiring to honor the school’s history and minimize the environmental impacts of new construction, the restoration extends the life of nearly century-old materials. Natural light is abundant throughout, promoting healthy and productive learning environments with a connection to the outdoors. Low-emitting materials, indoor air quality monitoring, and a green housekeeping program ensure clean, healthy air. These are among the features that helped the school earn LEED Silver certification.


A new school creates its own traditions and shared experiences. This school’s design encourages interactivity and connection among students and promotes collaboration among grade-level and subject matter faculty. The result is a collective learning environment which shapes one cohesive, vibrant community. The school’s courtyard can welcome the larger community of neighbors and local families to gather and celebrate—strengthening its role as a much-needed Town Square in this fast growth area.

Planning—Star of DistinctionPlanning

The community’s vision and principles inspired a layout that accommodates increasing enrollment while remaining flexible in arrangement. Collaborative learning spaces along Main Street are cross-curricular learning environments for groups and individual learners. The largest of these collaborative gathering spaces is the library, which became a room without walls. With ready and open access to resources and materials, it challenges the confined, quiet role on campus that libraries often serve.

Transformation—Star of DistinctionSchool Transformation

The building design fosters diverse learning and teaching experiences. Students can choose engagement or independent study in collaborative spaces outside the classroom while still being supervised. Teachers utilize shared resources and secure outdoor learning spaces to enhance their lessons. The design embodies the district’s educational vision for embracing choice and instilling grit—becoming the benchmark for future middle school design and construction.

Stars of Distinction Star of Distinction Category Winner