Revive and Revere: The Campus Master Plan

It happens to many school districts: The curriculum and technology advance at breakneck speed, yet the facilities lag behind. Each year, classrooms become less capable of handling curricular changes, and labs weaken in their ability to adapt to advances in learning. The corridors start to look dated, the façade shows signs of its age, HVAC systems falter. The list goes on and on.

A master plan sets a path to revive LaSalle-Peru High School’s 90-year-old campus, while preserving its revered historic elements.

A master plan sets a path to revive LaSalle-Peru High School’s 90-year-old campus, while preserving its revered historic elements.

To compound the problem, community members, many of which have attended the facilities themselves, may feel an attachment to parts of the campus. Maybe it’s a gymnasium or a theater. It could be a canopy or a clock tower.

The community-driven master plan acts as a guide for districts and schools to bring new life to aging campuses, while also respecting those beloved monuments. When facility users (including students) and community members participate in the planning process, it gains momentum and increases referendum success.

Campus Revival

Educators, administrators, staff members, and over 40 community volunteers participated in the master plan that provides a vision to transform the LaSalle-Peru high school campus.

Educators, administrators, staff members, and over 40 community volunteers participated in the master plan that provides a vision to transform the LaSalle-Peru high school campus.

LaSalle-Peru Township High School District 120 (LaSalle, Illinois) recently confronted a problem like this. Its high school campus was starting to show its 90 years, and it hadn’t had a major expansion in over fifty years. Moreover, many members of the community had strong feelings about the campus’s iconic clock tower, theater, and stadium.

Legat Architects and Kmetz Architects led a community collaborative process that brought together many stakeholders (including community members) to address these issues. Specific sessions included the following:

  • An “Engagement Session” included a “movie night” with video clips that described the future of learning, along with group discussions.
  • An “Envisioning Session” challenged groups to discuss what the future of learning could look like. Groups brainstormed concepts for different parts of the facility, ranging from the entry and cafeteria to the media center and learning labs.
  • A “Concepts Session” challenged participants to create and prioritize campus expansion.
  • A “Transform Session” refined three options, and participants voted on the ones that best met their goals.

The outcome of all this was a master plan strongly supported by those who participated. It includes major additions, renovations, and learning environment enhancements, but it also maintains those parts of the campus that are valued in the community.

The district created the following video that introduces the plan. The video celebrates LaSalle-Peru High School’s history, explores its values, and stresses the need for campus upgrades.

At the April 15, 1928 dedication of the LaSalle-Peru campus, the Honorable Francis G. Blair said, “The civic spirit of a people can be measured by what they do for their children.”

The L-P master plan, which has the future of the district’s students at its heart, embodies that spirit.


Care at the Core

When it comes to health care services, people have become informed consumers. They go to the Internet to self-diagnose, compare doctors, and size up programs. They also log on to shop facilities.

Legat Architects is expanding its blog to discuss issues relevant to the health care architecture and design industry. Photo copyright Michael Havens through Creative Commons.

Legat Architects is expanding its blog to discuss issues relevant to the health care architecture and design industry. Photo copyright Michael Havens through Creative Commons.

Whether they’re going to a prenatal orientation class, an MRI, or a congregate living lounge, people want a setting that meets their needs. What is that place? What does it look like? How can its operators use it to maximize their efficiency and integrate the newest equipment? How can the facility achieve care at its core?

These are just a few of the questions that we’ll tackle as we expand Legat Architects’ blog to include issues that impact health care facilities. We will draw from experience at over 500 health care projects to offer programming and design lessons for a variety of facilities: hospitals, medical office buildings, community health centers, senior living facilities, and more.

We’ll break down architectural responses to advances in technology and delivery, as well as changes in the construction climate. So please join us in our journey to “care at the core.”


Sustainable Natatorium/Aquatics Center Design – Part Four (Buy-in from the Beginning)

In a previous post, I discussed the importance of a goal-oriented collaborative design process that starts as early as possible. This is especially important when it comes to the sustainable aspirations of a construction project, whether it’s a new aquatics center or a cafeteria renovation.

Niles Township High School District 219’s emphasis on sustainability fueled planning and design of the Niles North Aquatics Center.

Niles Township High School District 219’s emphasis on sustainability fueled planning and design of the Niles North Aquatics Center.

Long before we began programming the Niles North High School Aquatics Center, Niles Township High School District 219 (D219) had made sustainable practices a priority. D219 had created a 5-year Plan to “supercharge the achievement of every student” at its two high schools. Part of the plan called for improving energy efficiency and reducing its environmental footprint.

So when it came time to discuss sustainable components of the Aquatics Center, it was full steam ahead. We explored sustainable strategies related to daylighting and water conservation in a design workshop that brought to the table community members, student athletes, coaches, architects, engineers, and construction professionals.

Smaller design workshops focused on the use of recycled and regionally sourced materials, as well as reviewing conceptual energy models to ensure that the design would be as efficient as possible. Pool facilities typically consume five times more energy than the average commercial building, so energy efficiency was a must.

The resulting design decreases the center’s energy use by 44% and water use by 42% compared to a typical aquatics center of similar size.

The author (center) presents the LEED Gold certification plaque to D219 representatives. From left: Board Vice President Dr. Sheri Doniger, Board Secretary Carlton Evans, Mike Maloney, Facilities Committee Chair Jeff Greenspan, and Ruth Klint.

The author (center) presents the LEED Gold certification plaque to D219 representatives. From left: Board Vice President Dr. Sheri Doniger, Board Secretary Carlton Evans, Mike Maloney, Facilities Committee Chair Jeff Greenspan, and Ruth Klint.

This winter, the Aquatics Center achieved LEED for Schools Gold certification from the US Green Building Council. The center became the country’s highest LEED rated facility of its kind. That’s a powerful testament to the importance of buy-in from the beginning.

Read my other aquatics center sustainability posts on using mindful massing, controlling natural light, saving water.


The Essentials of Early Learning Center Design – Part One (Indoor/Outdoor Connectivity)

Place influences . . . especially when it comes to early childhood education. The wisely planned and designed early learning center engages young minds at this pivotal time. It also helps educators plant the seeds for lifelong learning.

The design of early learning centers can boost learning at a critical developmental stage. Photo copyright André Benedix through creative commons.

The design of early learning centers can boost learning at a critical developmental stage. Photo copyright André Benedix through creative commons.

This post kicks off a series on some of the most important architectural elements of an early learning facility. These include connecting to nature, inspiring curiosity, encouraging interaction, and welcoming the community.

Indoor/Outdoor Connectivity

The ideal early learning center offers connectivity between the indoors and the outdoors. That means views to the outside and curriculum-responsive outdoor activities.

Outside views help stimulate young minds.

Outside views help stimulate young minds.

Many of today’s schools were built at a time when outside views were considered a distraction. A growing collection of research reveals the truth: Natural light and views to the outdoors relax the retina and improve cognitive retention.

What’s happening outside the early learning center? Here’s an opportunity to create outdoor settings that support the curriculum and engage young minds.

What’s happening outside the early learning center? Here’s an opportunity to create outdoor settings that support the curriculum and engage young minds.

The importance of connectivity extends to outdoor play areas. Ideally, an early learning center will have outdoor settings that go beyond standard play equipment to support continuous learning.

The Community Consolidated School District 59 Early Learning Center now under construction will have three thematic gardens: sensory, fine arts, and nature. The gardens allow students to learn in different settings and to engage in participation through play. For instance, students can make music on the xylophone wall in the fine arts garden, or help tend plantings in the nature garden.

Importantly, these gardens are not cordoned off on plots where students can’t see them. Rather, classrooms and corridors surround the gardens. The inside and the outside connect!


Sustainable Natatorium/Aquatics Center Design – Part Three (Use Mindful Massing)

The shape and size (i.e., massing) of an aquatics center not only create its image, but also affect energy consumption and light distribution.

The Niles North High School Aquatics Center introduces a dynamic form that welcomes the community.

The Niles North High School Aquatics Center introduces a dynamic form that welcomes the community.

One of the first things people notice about the Niles North High School Aquatics Center is its intriguing shape. Aesthetically, the dramatic curved form creates a sense of movement that reflects what’s happening on the inside. Additionally, at night, the translucent glass creates a glowing beacon to welcome the community to events.

The sloped roof reduces the volume of the aquatics center to lessen the demand on the mechanical systems. The result is lower energy bills.

The sloped roof reduces the volume of the aquatics center to lessen the demand on the mechanical systems. The result is lower energy bills.

The shape was a contributing factor in achieving the facility’s LEED Gold certification. On the north side, there is an eleven-foot-high mezzanine walkway that has about twenty feet of height clearance to the structure above. The tiered spectator seating even has a twelve-foot clearance at the highest row of seats. These heights were necessary to provide the code-required height for the three-meter diving and to provide a comfortable viewing environment for the spectators.

Athlete seating along the south wall didn’t require that height, so we lowered the height there to provide a twelve-foot clearance. This way, the heating and cooling systems don’t have to work as hard as they would if the entire ceiling was 31 feet.

Read my other aquatics center posts on controlling natural light and saving water.


Sustainable Natatorium/Aquatics Center Design – Part Two (Control Natural Light)

Poorly lit older pools are a common problem for school districts across the country. For years, incorporating the use of natural light in a natatorium simply wasn’t a priority. Schools wanted to build quickly and inexpensively; some pools were actually located within the basement.

Renovations brought much more natural light into Niles North High School’s 48-year-old pool.

Renovations brought much more natural light into Niles North High School’s 48-year-old pool.

A natatorium lacking in natural light is uninspiring to swimmers, unwelcoming to would-be spectators, and unfavorable to energy bills.

Natural light is now an essential part of the modern day sustainable aquatics center. The designer’s main challenge involves bringing in as much light as possible, while preventing the glare that can distract swimmers.

Niles North managed to transform its old dark pool into one of the country’s premier high school sustainable aquatics centers. Below are a few natural light design tips for districts considering natatorium projects, whether they involve renovating an old facility or building a new one.

Renovations
When Niles Township High School District 219 determined that it wanted its new Aquatics Center to be a model for sustainable natatorium design, one of the biggest challenges was what to do with the district’s half century old pool. The solution reveals a couple cost-effective techniques.

The design team eliminated the drop ceiling to regain the height of the space so that it lost the feeling of being in cave. Additionally, a new glass wall was installed to separate the old and new pools, while maintaining the feel of a cohesive aquatics center.

New Construction
When it comes to newer aquatics centers, the right combination of clear and translucent (i.e., frosted) glass can bring in the ideal amount of natural light throughout the year.

Designers tweaked translucent glass (back wall) and clear glass (sides) to maximize natural light for both athletes and spectators at the Niles North High School Aquatics Center. Photo courtesy Niles Township HSD 219.

Designers tweaked translucent glass (back wall) and clear glass (sides) to maximize natural light for both athletes and spectators at the Niles North High School Aquatics Center. Photo courtesy Niles Township HSD 219.

The Niles North Aquatics Center has translucent glass on the east and west walls, which take the biggest hit from direct sunlight. The translucent glass diffuses the sunlight, while preventing glare and excessive heat that would typically come with clear glass. Clear glass at the north allows natural light to wash over the spectators to provide an open, comfortable viewing environment. Clear glass at the south is protected by the roof overhang, which doesn’t allow the direct sunlight into the space to impede the swimmers or spectators.

Next time, I’ll discuss how a natatorium’s massing (i.e., size and shape) affect its sustainable performance.


It’s Time to Shelve the Traditional Library

What do you remember about your elementary or high school library? If you’re anything like me, you remember dull colors, cubicles, and lots of shelves. The seating wasn’t all that comfortable. Chatting was discouraged. Not the most welcoming place.

Today the library/learning resource center/media center—call it what you will—is undergoing a metamorphosis. The library has emerged as a pivotal space with the potential to encourage community participation, support group learning, and tout exciting curricular undertakings.

At the Oak Ridge Elementary School media center, most shelves are confined to the walls, creating more room for group activities. Bright colors, natural light, and mobile furniture make the space not just a library, but a meeting place for staff and community.

The Place to Be

Major strides in technology and collaborative learning have propelled a movement toward libraries that are less about shelves and cubicles and more about flexibility, openness, and even invention.

Particularly influential is one-to-one computing (i.e., a device for every student). If you can get books on devices, why not get rid of some shelves and create a presentation lab? Here the teacher uses different media to present to ten to fifteen students, or students give their own presentations.

Maybe the school is launching exciting new curricular offerings. Wouldn’t the library, with its typically central location, be an ideal place to showcase these programs?

What if students meandering the library see, instead of rows and rows of books, a large window that displays a “makers’ space” that displays 3D printing and model making? Or what about a space rich with technologies for music and video editing?

If it’s flexible enough, the library can also function as a community meeting space. The new media center at Oak Ridge Elementary School (Palos Hills, IL), for instance, transforms from a group research hub to a venue for special events.

You Don’t Have to Build New to Feel New

A school doesn’t have to create a major addition to achieve an impressive library. Older high schools can aspire to Governor State University’s renewed library.

The library hadn’t had a major renovation for over 25 years. The seating was uncomfortable, the lighting was poor, and there were no group study rooms. It desperately needed a makeover.

Renovations transformed dark, dull spaces into vibrant and collaborative learning settings to which Governors State University students are flocking.

Renovations transformed dark, dull spaces into vibrant and collaborative learning settings to which Governors State University students are flocking.

A complete face-lift created breakout conference spaces and study nooks equipped with technology that enables students to practice their presentations. New student service points improved peer-to-peer interaction. Inviting spaces and open views have reduced “library anxiety” among students.

The overall feel of the library has shifted dramatically. With its bright colors and contemporary furnishings, it’s closer to an internet café or coffee house than to a traditional library.

Untuck the Library

The memories we have and the movies we watch continue to pigeonhole the library as a hideaway filled with reclusive students.

Also, the librarian is no longer someone who goes around shushing kids, but instead a guide to help students access what they need in an age of information overload.

I hope that you’ll join me in “untucking” the library from its traditional role. Yes, the library should still be a place where students can go to study quietly, but it should also be a place of shared ideas and experimentation.

When we walk into a library today, we should see a space that is bright, flexible, and welcoming. Then we will see the most rewarding sight: fulfilled staff and engaged students.


Sustainable Natatorium/Aquatics Center Design – Part One

Swimming consistently ranks among the top sports for building muscle, strengthening the heart, and controlling weight. Sadly, many facilities that host swimming programs are out of shape.

By embracing sustainable design strategies, a high school can achieve a natatorium that stands as a reflection of the activities it hosts!

The design of the Niles North High School Aquatics Center reduces both energy and water use by over forty percent. Photo copyright Emery Architectural Photography.

The design of the Niles North High School Aquatics Center reduces both energy and water use by over forty percent. Photo copyright Emery Architectural Photography.

Four years ago, Niles Township High School District 219 (D219) set out to transform its 48-year-old pool at Niles North High School into a model for sustainable aquatics centers. Recently, the expanded and renovated Niles North Aquatics Center earned LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

How can a high school create a natatorium/aquatics center that mirrors the health and efficiency of its athletes? Over the next few weeks, I’ll be offering a few tips based on my experience at Niles North. Here’s the first:

Stop Wasting Water!
Aquatics facilities have the potential to waste a lot of water. So designers and districts embarking on natatorium construction should prioritize water efficiency.

It starts before people even enter the building. Permeable pavers can help reduce stormwater runoff. Native plantings limit irrigation needs. More advanced rainwater harvesting systems can even collect water for non-potable (i.e., non-drinking) use.

Then the pool itself should be outfitted with efficient systems. For instance, the regenerative media system at Niles North helps reduce backwash by 89% compared to a regular pool filtration system.

The right collection of water-friendly support systems can further reduce water use: Niles North uses electronic water coolers with bottle fill stations. The stations have tickers that keep track of how many plastic bottles are saved. Low-flow plumbing fixtures and staff-monitored shower controls reduce student and staff water use by 42% compared to a regular building.

In my next post, I’ll discuss the importance of welcoming (and controlling) natural light.


STEM in Demand: The Importance of K-12 STEM Research Programs

Photo courtesy Nancy Tarnai, UAF

Photo courtesy Nancy Tarnai, UAF

 

Today’s guest blog comes to us from Janice Dawe, Ph.D., research assistant professor of natural resource education and outreach at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF). Jan also coordinates the university’s OneTree Alaska program. We asked her why STEM research programs are so important in today’s K-12 schools. 

 

STEM research programs in K-12 schools can be very important as part of the school turnaround movement. They create and test innovative approaches to STEM teaching and learning and, with attention paid to critical assessment, decrease the time between testing different approaches and establishing best practices for improving STEM learning outcomes. (Ultimately, evidence-based results depend on longitudinal studies).

Not tomorrow, but today: The workforce has its sights set on young professionals with the skills that STEM research programs help build. Photo courtesy Niles Township High School District 219.

Not tomorrow, but today: The workforce has its sights set on young professionals with the skills that STEM research programs help build. Photo courtesy Niles Township High School District 219.

Forward-thinking K-12 leaders have tuned into identifying STEM approaches—and propagating those approaches throughout the country’s education system.

STEM research programs are important because the 21st century workforce needs well-prepared students NOW!

STEM studies cultivate critical thinking, problem-solving habits of mind, and science/engineering process thinking. These skills will benefit any student’s choice of careers and should lead to the development of a more engaged, confident, and competent civil society; one that’s capable of taking on the big issues that face us.

Stay tuned for another post from Jan about her OneTree Alaska program, which has grown from a simple public outreach project to a STEM to STEAM K-20 year-round inquiry art and science program.


Adventures in Curiosity: Beneficiaries of Early Learning Centers

Early learning centers provide an opportunity to truly customize design for a particular age group. They also have the potential to set the tone for making the learning experience an adventure in curiosity.

When all early learning functions are joined in one place, the students, educators, and community benefit with an efficient and focused facility layered with learning environments.

Designers of the Community Consolidated School District 59 Early Learning Center are animating spaces that were once ignored. Pockets of space within the corridor are expanded and themed according to the adjacent Learning Gardens: Sensory, Nature, and Fine Arts. The floor pattern and materials, the ceiling heights and colors, and the wall materials help to define these learning and interaction spaces.

Designers of the Community Consolidated School District 59 Early Learning Center are animating spaces that were once ignored. Pockets of space within the corridor are expanded and themed according to the adjacent Learning Gardens: Sensory, Nature, and Fine Arts. The floor pattern and materials, the ceiling heights and colors, and the wall materials help to define these learning and interaction spaces.

Students First

A student’s first experience with school can be intimidating. As educators and architects, we have to create a welcoming early learning environment that supports students’ curiosity while easing their fears of separation.

Many spaces can be adapted to the child’s view and experience: classrooms, hallways, courtyards, entries, play spaces. To create adaptive and flexible learning spaces, designers can tweak factors such as color, textures, displays, counters, sinks, and furniture.

Getting Educators Excited

Because the 21st century early learning center centralizes this function, it gives teachers the opportunity to cross-pollinate ideas and resources. I’ve repeatedly seen teachers get excited about collaborating and sharing spaces in early learning centers. Examples include teaching one to one, small groups, “in-between spaces” for combined resources, and staging spaces for special needs.

A Community Resource

Not only does the dedicated early learning center start learners on the right foot, but it also supports families with special needs and builds community within the framework of the center. It even reaches out beyond the facility to the community at large.

Early childhood is a pivotal time for students to retain their natural curiosity and fall in love with learning. The research-based early learning facility encourages that passion, while boosting teacher morale and supporting families.

Here are Five Tips to Achieve a Program-driven Early Childhood Center.