Case Studies

Jeffrey D. Chambers – Arlington Public Schools 

Shaping the future for Arlington Public Schools 

In a world where funding educational projects is a constant challenge, Jeffrey D. Chambers NCARB, AIA, ALEP, LEED BD+C, the director of design and construction for Arlington Public Schools in Virginia, stands at the forefront, tackling the complexities with unwavering determination. With a career spanning over three decades, Chambers brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the table, and his innovative approach to educational design has earned him a reputation as a visionary in the field. 

Jeffrey D. Chambers | Director, Design & Construction  |  Arlington Public Schools 

Jeffrey D. Chambers | Director, Design & Construction  |  Arlington Public Schools

“My focus is on providing high-performance learning facilities for all students and teachers, no matter their background,” Chambers tells Blueprint during an interview in April. High-performing spaces with natural light and low CO2 levels enhance everyone’s performance. 

From his career beginnings at Penn State to founding his own architectural firm, Chambers’ career has been a testament to his dedication to crafting inspiring educational spaces that promote high-performance learning environments. 

Chambers joined APS in 2016 and has faced limited sites to build seats for a growing student population in the district’s 28 square miles, 42 buildings and over 28,000 students speaking 73 languages. Therefore, Chambers’ design teams must prioritize inclusivity and creativity.  

With the population stabilized, he leads the charge in capital improvements, focusing on building renovations with precision and foresight to create a more sustainable school division of existing facilities that matches the sustainability of the new schools, which include two net-zero facilities.  

The goal, Chambers says, is to help shape spaces that not only support education but also inspire students. 

Challenges in education 

One of Chambers’ biggest obstacles is the escalating costs of construction, coupled with continued annual inflation, that cannot be avoided.  However, despite these adversities, Chambers remains undeterred and seeks creative, cost-effective solutions to overcome the financial hurdles. 

Jeffrey D. Chambers | Director, Design & Construction  |  Arlington Public Schools 

Chambers has previously worked in rural districts in Pennsylvania, where budgets were tight, making renovations challenging and building new facilities unattainable.  

“This firsthand experience of working under constrained resources gives me a unique perspective on finding cost-effective solutions that meet the needs of students and educators,” Chambers explains.  

Upon joining APS several years ago, Chambers witnessed a decade of rapid growth, with student enrollment increasing from 20,000 to nearly 30,000. When growth slowed, the school system recognized the need to evaluate and prioritize renovating existing school facilities. Chambers oversaw a comprehensive study process to identify facilities that require the most attention. He believes examining facilities from multiple perspectives is crucial to ensure they meet educational, safety, functional and sustainability goals. 

The modern school 

One of the primary focuses of Chambers’ tenure has been setting design standards and streamlining the construction process for new buildings and renovations. By establishing these standards and prioritizing durability and cost-effectiveness, Chambers aims to ensure that consultant architects and designers adhere to APS’s guidelines. Energy use intensity (EUI) plays a crucial role in this regard. Chambers aims for APS buildings to achieve an EUI in the low to mid-20s, significantly lower than the average of 100-104. APS already boasts two net-zero schools, and with the inclusion of solar panels in upcoming projects, they are steadily moving towards their goal of having a third net-zero school. 

Jeffrey D. Chambers | Director, Design & Construction  |  Arlington Public Schools 

Adapting to the changing education landscape, Chambers recognizes that classrooms must also evolve. Gone are the days of large spaces dominated by desktop computers and static rows of student seats. With technological advancements, computers have become smaller and more portable, allowing for greater flexibility within the classroom and student-centric learning plans.  

“I push for including flexible classrooms and common spaces that foster collaboration, breakout sessions, and cultural inclusivity. This shift in philosophy plus limited real estate has necessitated a move towards vertical building designs rather than traditional horizontal layouts,” he notes.  

Challenges arise when renovating existing facilities to meet low EUI standards. Due to constraints on rooftop equipment, not all buildings can accommodate geothermal systems or solar panels.  

For a current project, Chambers highlights the specific requirements of different programs, such as animal science, auto tech, autobody, wood and metal shops, and graphic design, which demand different ventilation systems.  

The construction of a new career center, Arlington Tech, and other specialized programs provides an opportunity to creatively overcome these challenges.  

“By replacing a 1970s building with a modern facility, APS aims to cater to the evolving needs of its students while maintaining a commitment to sustainability,” Chambers says.  

Community matters 

Arlington Public Schools are used during regular school hours and open to the community from 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Community groups, parks, and recreation programs actively utilize the school facilities during these extended hours. Chambers takes pride in knowing that these buildings are heavily utilized, often by multiple groups, reflecting their value to the community. 

Jeffrey D. Chambers | Director, Design & Construction  |  Arlington Public Schools 

In addition to his professional background, Chambers reflects on his personal journey and the experiences that shaped his career path. Growing up in a family that did not pressure him to conform to specific expectations, Chambers discovered his passion for photography in middle school. This passion eventually led him to explore the field of architecture. Chambers learned the importance of constant self-improvement through his involvement in the Boy Scouts and becoming an Eagle Scout and challenged himself to explore new horizons. 

Chambers’ career has taken him from working for a large architectural firm in Chicago to managing his projects independently in Pennsylvania. However, budget constraints prompted him to seek a new opportunity. Through a stroke of serendipity, a friend recommended Chambers to a recruiter in Michigan, eventually leading him to his current position with Arlington Public Schools in Virginia. 

Jeffrey Chambers has truly left an indelible mark on Arlington Public Schools. His forward-thinking approach to educational design, commitment to sustainability, and dedication to creating safe and inspiring learning environments have transformed the district’s education landscape.  

“Despite the challenges of funding and adapting to changing educational needs, we continue to push the boundaries of design and construction, ensuring that APS remains at the forefront of innovative and sustainable educational facilities nationwide,” Chambers says.  

View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. V 2024 Edition here.

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