Technical Lead for CHPS shares her expertise in sustainable school design in an interview


From CHPS News

What does it take to have a high-performance school, one that prioritizes occupants’ health, student performance, lower operational costs, and sustainable design? First it takes a robust group of school building professionals to develop and regularly update a set of technical criteria that acts as a playbook for building a high-performance school. Second, it requires a team of experts to work with design teams and school districts and review a school’s design and construction documentation to ensure that criteria is being met.  

Ensuring a high-performance school requires both third-party criteria requirements and verification. This is where CHPS comes in. Our National Technical Committee has developed the only school-focused building criteria, and our CHPS team is the only technical review team dedicated to schools. 

Navigating highly technical criteria programs or submitting the correct verification material can sometimes be a daunting task for school project teams, designers and builders. Fortunately, CHPS has people behind those programs to help you get through the process. One of them is our Technical Lead, Alex Buchanan. Alex is a LEED AP BD+C with a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Iowa State University and a Master of Architecture degree from the University of Colorado at Denver.

Named to the Technical Lead role earlier this year, Alex has been a CHPS project reviewer since 2021 and has previously worked in commissioning and construction project management. This professional experience tied with her educational background in engineering and architecture has made her a valuable resource in navigating and developing the broad CHPS criteria. 

Alex is an expert in sustainable building practices and school building science who is happy to assist teams in clarifying and interpreting the criteria for their projects. She works in concert with project reviewer Jocelyn Groom, and with the support of the National Technical Committee, it’s a true collaborative effort. We asked Alex a few questions to give her an opportunity to share some insights into her role and how she can help project teams.  

Q: What can schools do to best leverage CHPS during the design and construction process?
A: I recommend that project teams pursuing CHPS certification start implementing the criteria early in the design phase. Thinking about CHPS during design development, understanding the prerequisites, and making decisions about what criteria to pursue early on can help teams save effort down the road and prevent last-minute changes that may impact project schedule and budget. Getting your design review submittal into us prior to starting construction is also key. We are always happy to help teams that are creating healthy, sustainable schools, and we can be most effective in the design phase rather than at the construction review when the building may already be complete. 

Q: What do you see as a current priority for schools?
A: As we emerge from this global pandemic, I see indoor air quality being a huge priority for schools. While CHPS has always prioritized the health, well-being, and performance of students, educators, and school staff, COVID-19 has brought the role buildings play in our overall health into the limelight. I’m proud of how CHPS focuses on a school’s indoor environment and rewards teams pursuing increased IAQ through enhanced filtration, increased ventilation rates, and other measures. I see new schools being designed with an emphasis on IAQ and hope that existing schools are recommissioning their existing systems to ensure minimum requirements continue to be met and evaluating what changes may be implemented to promote increased IAQ.  

Q: What’s exciting in new projects you’re seeing?
A: I’m glad to see more and more schools with all-electric building systems and many pursuing Zero Net Energy. Reducing dependence on fossil fuels and mitigating the climate crisis are at the top of my mind these days, and it’s great to see school districts and project teams stepping up to these challenges. There is also a unique learning opportunity for the students in these buildings to learn about their new school through the lens of sustainability and efficient energy use.  

CHPS recently launched our most ambitious set of criteria, US-CHPS v2.0, for school districts nationwide, and our first set of these projects have started to come in. I’m particularly excited about the new “Biophilic & Responsive Design” credit which aims to recreate a connection to nature from inside each classroom and create safe and calming spaces where all students feel safe, welcome, and engaged. I see this credit as an interesting challenge for designers and as something that will produce an immense benefit for students utilizing the spaces created. I’m looking forward to seeing how teams incorporate biophilia and responsiveness into their designs!  

Q: How can teams get in touch with their technical questions?
A: This is a question we get from many design teams, and I am excited to announce CHPS will be hosting regular ‘Technical Office Hours” for CHPS members where they can ask me their technical questions directly. I also encourage all our project teams to post any questions to your project’s Basecamp site for review by the CHPS team; we pride ourselves in getting back to you as soon as we can. If your project doesn’t have Basecamp setup yet or if you have technical questions about CHPS in general, feel free to email me at