Designing buildings with education as prime driver
Boulder Valley schools are getting an innovation makeover.
The school district contracted with Minneapolis-based architectural firm Fielding Nair International, which is working with schools this fall as they start working with architects and their communities to design construction projects.
The projects will be paid for through the $576.5 million bond issue approved in November, with the 31,000-student district repairing and upgrading all of its 55 schools — including rebuilding three elementary schools. A new K-8 campus in Erie also is included.
Fielding Nair will work with local architects on designs for five of the biggest projects — the K-8 campus in Erie, rebuilding Creekside, Douglass and Emerald elementary schools, and remodeling Lafayette’s Centaurus High School.
Districtwide, schools also will share a $20 million innovation fund. Elementary schools will receive $200,000, middle schools $400,000 and high schools $800,00.
Prakash Nair, Fielding Nair’s president, recently led a district presentation, saying that school buildings were designed for a “factory model” of learning at a time when well-paying manufacturing jobs were plentiful.
Now, he said, schools need to be designed for differentiated, personalized learning.
“We send kids to schools that look exactly the way they looked 50 years ago,” he said. “We want to design buildings with education as the prime driver. We need spaces for independent study, project based learning, peer tutoring and roundtable discussions.”
Overseeing the work at the district level is Boulder Valley’s new innovation director Kiffany Lychock. To start, she’s working with Fielding Nair to develop innovation guidelines for schools to help them develop projects.
“I’ll work in partnership with schools on the best way we can invest that money,” she said. “It’s really exciting work. We can get our kids future ready.”
Lychock said the goal is making it easier for teachers to use more collaborative and creative teaching practices.
“Things have changed a lot with how kids learn,” she said. “Learning has really escaped the four walls of the school building.”
Projects could include elements such as non-traditional furniture, small performance spaces for presentations, labs to support project-based learning, 3D printers or video production labs.
Starting this week, the five schools working directly with Fielding Nair will host workshops to gather feedback that include community meetings. The first community meeting is set for Monday at Broomfield’s Emerald Elementary.
Emerald Principal Samara Williams said the intensive, two-day session with Fielding Nair will include students, teachers, parents and community members.
“They’re really going to help us define and redefine innovation as we build our new building,” she said. “I don’t think the schools of the future will look like the schools of the past.”
She said she’s looking for more glass to let in natural light, more flexible spaces that can go from a big room to multiple small areas and student furniture that’s mobile and lightweight.
“It won’t be 30 desks that all look the same and four walls,” she said. “I’m so excited about this. It’s not just technology or the latest gadgets and tools, it’s a different way of approaching teaching and learning.”
At Boulder’s Douglass Elementary, which also will be rebuilt, Principal Jon Wolfer said Douglass was built in the 1950s and designed as a junior high school. Every space is used and small breakout groups can only happen in the classroom or hallways, he said.
The new building, he said, will have more flexible work spaces that better fit how teachers work.
“We get to be on the leading edge,” Wolfer said. “We can have the most innovative space that will be the most effective for teaching and learning. We have a lot of energy from our teachers and our families about the future of our building.”
Though there wasn’t dedicated “innovation” money in the district’s last major construction program, some schools still included innovative elements in their designs.
At Boulder’s Bear Creek Elementary, for example, Principal Kent Cruger said the school created more flexible spaces using big windows and garage doors.
He said the big windows installed in the cafeteria allow students to eat outside and still be supervised, giving them options of being quieter in the indoor space or louder outside.
Garage doors also helped create flexible space, he said. One was used in the gym, allowing teachers to open the gym to the outside basketball courts and playground, doubling the space.
A second garage door is the wall of a multipurpose space that’s in the middle of the school, allowing it to serve as the instrumental music classroom when closed and a space that fits an entire grade level when open.
“We love it,” Cruger said. “We got a lot of flexibility at a very low cost.”
If you go
What: Boulder Valley schools community vision workshops
Emerald Elementary, 6:30 to 8 p.m Aug, 31., 8755 W. Elmhurst, Broomfield
New Erie campus, 6:30 to 8 p.m. Sept. 3, at Angevine Middle School, 1150 S. Boulder Road, Lafayette
Creekside Elementary, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Sept. 9, 3740 Martin Drive, Boulder
Douglass Elementary, 6:30 to 8 p.m. Sept. 10, 840 75th St., Boulder
Centaurus High, 6:30 to 8 p.m.. Sept. 16, 10300 South Boulder Road, Lafayette