ULI Houston Development of Distinction Awards Honors Innovative Elementary School

Children plant fruits and vegetables in the James Berry school garden.

Children plant fruits and vegetables in the James Berry school garden.

For the first time in the seven-year history of ULI Houston’s Development of Distinction Awards, a “positive impact on community health” was made part of the award criteria.

While many outstanding projects were honored, the winner in the nonprofit category—James Berry Elementary School—stood out. Ann Taylor, Executive Director of ULI Houston, stated that “considering the impact of school quality on neighborhood desirability, transforming a school in an underinvested community can be a big catalyst for change.”

Designed by Gensler, this environmental science magnet school is LEED certified at the Silver level. It actively teaches children about environmental science and sustainability by incorporating rainwater cisterns for irrigation and native plantings to reduce water consumption. An organic community garden gives the students the ability to learn how to incorporate healthy food into their meals. Said Taylor, “When we toured the school, we observed a cooking class with Recipe For Success. Berry students were learning how to prepare and eat produce they had grown on-site in their community gardens.”

One feature of Berry Elementary that is not typical in commercial or civic buildings today is operable windows that allow fresh air into the classrooms. Citing studies showing that natural light improves productivity and contributes to the comfort of occupants, the classrooms, corridors, library, and multipurpose room have large windows that allow light and connect students to the outdoor environment.

The school building is also used for community functions, such as Boy Scout meetings, evening fitness classes for parents, and computer classes. The school library is open on Saturdays so the community can come in to check out books. The way the building was designed ensures spaces large enough to hold large numbers of people. A park adjacent to the school—developed by the nonprofit school park organization SPARK Park—was designed to replace the original playground, and has become an active part of a healthier environment for Berry students, their families, and the entire community.

Learn more about ULI Houston’s Development of Distinction 2014 award winners here.
Watch a short video about this innovative community and educational resource below.


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