Architects who design schools want to provide environments that encourage creativity and conversation, celebrate learning, and make students feel comfortable and safe.

Masonry interior and exterior walls are durable and require little maintenance. The small unit size and array of available colors offer boundless creative possibilities and present a friendlier, more approachable façade. What's more, fire resistance and acoustical properties help assure a safe environment conducive to learning.

Damian Lang, president of $7 million Lang Masonry Contractors, Waterford, Ohio, notes that in getting a contract to do a school project, "the secret is your size. ... We have the bonding capacity."

Having the right material handling equipment is crucial. Lang likes to use battery-powered pallet jacks for interior applications. Although Lang doesn't use them, skid-steer loaders can be used on congested sites.

Because schools have a greater variety of specialized large enclosures, it is critical that the masonry work be coordinated with the many other trades on the jobsite. Masons typically have to sawcut more openings, which must be considered when estimating production.

All types of masonry are used in the design of schools: 4-inch-thick unreinforced concrete masonry, 6-inch-thick units, CMU walls, special slotted sound-absorbing block, and sound-diffusing block. For exterior walls, brick still is popular, but concrete masonry is gaining ground. Both loadbearing and veneer masonry are found in school projects, sometimes on the same job. Stone, structural glazed tile, and glass block are used as well.

Discovery Middle School in Vancouver, Wash., includes $1.04 million in stone (gray basalt), concrete masonry, glass block, brick veneer, and structural hollow clay brick. LSW Architects of Vancouver, Wash., strove for a "smallness within largeness environment" through the creation of "villages" and "plazas" that promote student interaction. Value-engineering is an important part of designing any school project, according to Pitkin.

Dakota High School of Clinton Township, Mich., was designed to evoke an image of the Dakota prairie through the use of terra-cotta-colored block forming the projected plinths at the base of the walls and the columns, while buff-colored clay brick are used in the upper portion. Groundface concrete masonry and clay brick were used throughout the project to achieve the architect's vision.

The new 50,000-square-foot academic center on the campus of The Hill School blends in with--and serves to unite--the school's other buildings, which are constructed of various types and styles of masonry. The Pennsylvania Collegiate Gothic style harmonizes with the historic architecture of the 150-year-old Pottstown, Pa., prep school. Value-engineering figured prominently in the design process.

Moon Mountain Elementary School, designed as a prototype for the school district, combines custom-blended concrete masonry with soaring steel canopies and metal roofing to create a warm, comfortable, and playful environment that encourages the spirit of learning. Moon Mountain School was a challenge to construct because 53 different CMU parts (including shapes, sizes, and colors) made up the pattern.