Congratulations to the entire design team for winning the 2014 IFMA Award of Excellence for World Academy School. Brent Maugel, President of Maugel Architects, attended the ceremony and accepted the award on behalf of the team. The project was nominated by Sakonnet Associates of Little Compton, Rhode Island.
Read a description of the winning submission below:
SCHOOL BUILDINGS THAT INSPIRE: WORLD ACADEMY SCHOOL
by Dan Barton, AIA
World Academy is devoted to teach the “whole child” by nurturing and encouraging each individual’s abundant energy and constant curiosity, in a safe, socially rich and collaborative setting. One of the school’s fundamental philosophies is that children will be most receptive and engaged when their environment is familiar. As such, World Academy serves children from infants and toddlers through to Grade 8 in one facility--allowing them to grow increasingly comfortable within their school setting, as they develop both socially and intellectually.
Originally founded in 1980 as the Small World Learning Center, the school opened with 38 students, aged 3 to 5 years old. Within fifteen years, its program had grown dramatically and the school relocated to its present site into a new, 20,000 SF building with summer camp facilities. In 2010, with increased demand on its elementary and middle school programs, World Academy set out to plan a state-of-the art addition, that would nearly double the size of its building, transform the visual character of the school, and reorganize and expand site circulation and outdoor amenities.
The featured project for World Academy not only addresses the school’s need for a building expansion, it responds to the dynamic essentials of creating an environment to support 21st Century learning, where technology and collaboration are more widely integrated into both the curriculum and into the building.
Head of School and Founder, Kathy Nelson, wanted the “new” World Academy to inspire creativity and open-minded thinking within modern, light-filled open space. She envisioned multiple settings for structured and unstructured learning and social interaction, with particular emphasis on designing spaces to support an anti-biased curriculum in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and in the Arts. The project was to be a successful union of the school’s new and old buildings, and to allow clear, safe circulation throughout the campus. Major project components included:
• 16,000 SF Middle School Addition (2 Floors)
• 9,000 SF Gymnasium/ Theatre Arts Building with climbing wall and music center
• 3,000 SF Connector/Lobby
• New “loop” roadway, parking lots, drop-off/pick-up
• Soccer Field Project
The existing school and summer camp operations were to remain fully functioning during all phases of construction. Working closely with World Academy staff and parents, the design-build team developed a logistics plan that guided phasing and temporary construction. The main entrance to the original school building was temporarily moved to its rear side, served by new pathways and the first iteration of the new loop roadway, allowing all school operations to stay clear of construction activity at the front of the site.
As Kathy noted:
“It was a complex process to keep the program operating and safe during construction, but to see the smiling faces of students as they play sports in our new gym or participate in classroom activities, it just makes all the hard work worthwhile.”
The existing school building, while pleasant, clean and comfortable, was originally constructed to have a more traditional character. Placing new building components in front of the existing structure allowed the current building to remain intact, while providing a more contemporary overall appearance at the street. The character of new structure respects the former building by using clapboards and glazing as the prominent exterior finish materials, by having simple geometry, and through being sensitive to scale. The new “connector” provides a welcoming entrance and indoor gathering space, while effectively allowing for indoor circulation between the former school building, new Middle School and the new Gymnasium/Theatre Arts building.
Building security is paramount in designing school facilities. Conventional features, such as a key-card system allows staff and parents to enter designated parts of the building during regular operating hours, and allows school administrators to monitor building occupancy. Visitor access is monitored and controlled through cameras, intercoms and electronic locking. Design of the overall facility also inherently promotes safety by creating intentionally-unobstructed sightlines. Wide open spaces and interior glazing are strategically placed to allow for enhanced safety and observation of activities. Emergency signaling devices have been placed throughout the building, should staff need emergency assistance.
One of Maugel Architect’s major design objectives was to create a sense of community and transparency between the students, faculty, and administration. An open central core in the Middle School replaces the traditional locker-lined hallway and provides a two-level, light-filled gathering space. Classrooms are separated from the core with 8 foot high glass partitions, in which wood-toned storage cubbies add warmth and help to minimize distractions for students involved in classroom activities. The core space allows for both vertical and horizontal visual connections between classrooms and floors, while allowing light filtration from the skylights above the second floor to the soft central seating on the first floor.
Each of the classrooms has large exterior windows, sloped ceilings, and indirect lighting. Flexible furnishings and storage units are used to promote easy reconfiguration of spaces that adapt easily to changing classroom needs. Technology is integrated throughout the building and has been enhanced to allow for live streaming of educational information.
Natural light flows from all directions at World Academy’s new addition. Upon entering the building, skylights and 10’ high windows fill the entrance and Connector spaces with warm, natural daylight. Most places within the new middle school allow for natural light and views in two directions. The interior central core of the Middle School is capped with a floating soffit that frames three skylights and which conceal down lighting to replace the skylighting effect on darker days and in the evening. Glass guardrails between the two levels of the Middle School further allow light to dance within the space, and fosters the overall sense of transparency within the academic environment. The Gymnasium has large bands of linear windows and a glazed corner, giving this portion of the building a greater connection to site activities.
Interior materials are clean and simple, with an emphasis on being easy to maintain. Color has been used sparingly, so that the overall environment serves as an effective backdrop to display students’ work and changing exhibits. Acoustical panels are blended into upper wall sections and open ceiling areas for appropriate level of noise control in open areas.
World Academy’s addition has proven transformative: to enrollment, to the energy of staff and families, and by delivering effective spaces to support the school’s mission and purpose. As its name suggests, World Academy highly values its responsibility to provide a “world” of opportunity to its students--the new building conveys its purpose and promotes dynamic 21st Century learning and socialization.
Dan Barton, AIA is the director of design at Maugel Architects.