Designing & Building Schools: A Background in Institutional Design

4/11/2014
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In my 42 year career as an architect, I’ve been fortunate to design many school buildings, serving students from kindergarten through graduate school. From classrooms to athletic facilities, science laboratories, libraries and more, each type of space can pose a unique design challenge.

My first school design was the renovation and expansion of a 100-year-old, abandoned historic school building in Flint, Mich. in 1978. The firm I worked for won a national competition sponsored by the Charles Stuart Mott Foundation, and we were able to work extensively with the inner-city community to create a new prototype for Flint’s Community School concept.

We worked with futurists, artists, parents, students, teachers and community leaders to create a sense of ownership in the design process and the final product. About the same time, I was part of a team that designed a new high school on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation at the edge of the Badlands in South Dakota. The move from an inner-city community to a rural, isolated community was quite an adventure.

We recently completed expansions at Saint Thomas Academy and Visitation School both in Mendota Heights, Minn. At Saint Thomas we combined athletic venues and academic spaces, and at Visitation we created a new home for the Vis Robotics program and a Heart-of-the-School space that welcomes and nurtures students from pre-K to grade 12.

The cost and schedule certainties offered by our design-build project delivery approach made these projects happen more efficiently. The constant schedule coordination of our project managers ensured that school functions were minimally disrupted, and the construction sites were made safe for even the youngest children. The detailed attention to budgets stretched scarce dollars as far as possible.

In all these facilities, my greatest reward as an architect has been seeing the joy on the faces of the students, staff and teachers who get to inhabit and use their new spaces to learn, play and grow.

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