As architecture evolves, often the biggest supporter of contemporary design in any given community is the youth. Drawing on their surroundings for inspiration and goal achievement, young people today just short of demand innovation at their place of business: school.

Betty H. Fairfax High School opened in August 2007 to nearly 500 freshmen in the rapidly growing area of southwest Phoenix and has been held in the highest esteem by the Laveen community. This latest addition to the Phoenix Union High School District offers a visually stimulating experience for students while providing all the functionality required of the campus.


Adolfson & Peterson Construction completed the construction work in 17 months. The total building footage is 345,000 square feet and cost $63 million.

Zachary Munoz, principal of Betty Fairfax High explained, “The development of this school was well-planned and many people contributed to making it work. We opened on time, fully functional and awed by the spectacular results. It was inspiring to see the reaction of our staff, students, and parents when they saw this facility for the first time.”


This ultra-modern high school features small learning communities of clustered classes, a mall that winds through the campus grounds and skywalks connecting upper levels of each building. Its unique design and construction contributes to a healthy learning environment for students while fostering one of the most innovative high schools in the state.

Revolutionary by design, the campus preserves the district’s mission of providing students with an equal opportunity to succeed. Core curriculums are clustered serving as small, specialty schools while electives are spread throughout offering ample social interaction. All students utilize common areas such as the library, food service areas, physical education and performing art centers, which also enhance interaction amongst the students. These well-planned locations provide large open spaces for speaking engagements and performances, small spaces dedicated to group learning and contemplative spaces for individual work.


The architects responsible for this visionary marvel, DLR Group, received top recognition for the school’s design from the American School Journal and the National School Boards Association for their 2008 Learning By Design Citation of Excellence Award.

“The design process for this project quickly became an intensely collaborative one. District leaders, teachers, the community at large and high school students literally joined us as vital members of the design team,” stated Tom O’Neil, DLR Group principal. “The sense of community collaboration became the defining mark of the new campus where small learning communities promote a genuine sense of belonging for students.”


In an effort to minimize exposure to the harsh sun, the building layout is on an east/west axis. This position enables the school to take advantage of thermal and daylight efficiency. Sustainable features include high-performance dual pane window glazing to reduce or eliminate the use electric lighting, allowing natural light to flood indoor spaces during the day, and ground-sealed concrete flooring in high-traffic common areas and corridors.

DLR’s innovative design integrates durable materials appropriate for young, vigorous high school students with an emphasis on materials that are regionally available, offer low VOC and/or recycled. Even the carpet is made of recycled content and solution-dyed yarn.


The design is enhanced by low-water-use landscaping with native vegetation and decomposed granite to minimize turf areas. The multi-level building design minimizes hardscape and site disturbance while shade elements create usable outdoor social spaces and protect the window glazing.

The school is the first school in the district’s 112-year history named after an employee. Educator/philanthropist, Betty Fairfax, taught and counseled students in the Valley for approximately 65 years. Fairfax has been a force to be reckoned with since coming on board with the Phoenix Union High School District, devoting 100 percent of her time to her students’ futures and well-being. At the age of 89, following her retirement some years ago, she is still very involved counseling students and securing their higher education success.


At the school’s dedication ceremony at the beginning of its maiden school year, Fairfax vowed to watch her students’ school careers closely and offered $1,000 per year to any student who goes on to complete college as a reward to offset the cost of their education.

Without a doubt, students of Betty Fairfax High School will share in the learning amenities of their state-of-the-art school, named after such a state-of-the-art woman for years to come.

[photography by Mark Boisclair Photography]