By Bill Armstrong
With 43 elementary schools in its portfolio, the Regina School Division always has renovation and new construction projects on its plate. One such project includes a new Douglas Park School, replacing the existing building that opened in 1957. Comparing the design of the old building with the new prompts one to paraphrase an old saying: “This is not your daddy’s school.” It’s also likely that a lot more consultation and pre-planning went into the new building than the old. In fact, the first meetings with members of the school community – parents and educators – were held in January 2009, led by the project’s associate architect, Fielding Nair International.
“After an initial community meeting and presentation,” says FNI principal Randall Fielding, “we conducted a design pattern workshop from both ‘the inside out’ – the learner’s perspective – and the ‘outside in’, which considers the position of the sun, the prevailing winds and the characteristics of the neighbourhood. We use more than 40 design patterns as starting points, garnered from our work in 41 countries, and described in our book, The Language of School Design.”
The result is what Fielding Nair calls a design for the creative age; a 50,000 square foot building that encompasses three multi-age learning communities that open onto a central, south-facing, multifunctional atrium, which Fielding calls the heart of the school that “drinks in the light in this often cold climate.” The design also takes advantage of the stack effect to provide natural ventilation. Each “Personal Learning Community” – pre-K to Grade 2, Grades 3 to 5 and Grades 6 to 8 – will accommodate approximately 125 to 150 students.
“Once we’ve engaged with educators, students and community members in discussing key methods of teaching and learning, we then develop a site plan, floor plans, renderings and furnishing plans, engage in curriculum mapping and further refine the drawings,” Fielding explains. Number Ten Architectural Group was the “Architect of Record” on the project, working closely with FNI during the consultations and on the Schematic Design. Number Ten took the lead in developing the details and engineering components, with FNI consulting on guidelines for acoustics, HVAC, lighting and technology. “With a wide variety of spaces and 20 different learning modalities, acoustical absorption to reduce noise and confusing reverberations is particularly important,” Fielding notes, “as are quiet HVAC systems that are sustainable and allow for multiple point controls.”
Regina School Division spokesperson Terry Lazarou observes that Fielding Nair provided the vision and a template for how to build for learning in the 21st Century. The local architects, administration and school communities were then involved in visioning sessions where “… wants, needs, nice-to-haves and fears were all discussed to create the plan for Douglas Park.” The result is a building oriented east-west to take full advantage of southern daylight, a light shelf that reflects low winter light into the building, raised roof sections with side windows to let natural light into the middle of the school, maximized sight lines to playgrounds for safety, and earth berms on the northeast side to provide storm protection. One of the eminently practical touches is that each PLC has its own mudroom to connect play areas to the school interior.
Architect Greg Hasiuk notes that Number TEN worked closely with the school division to ensure that the overall vision was being met by the design, since the project team often could not rely on the traditional ‘rules of thumb’ for school design.
“We used 3D modeling and walk-throughs to help visualize the learning environments and to continually refine the design,” Hasiuk explains. “Large overhead doors allow educators to open up adjacent learning spaces for increased flexibility. Minimal built-in millwork allows educators and students to adjust their environments to a greater degree, with moveable furnishings,” he continues. “Glazing between learning environments allows students and staff to feel connected to each other, and fosters a sense of community.”
Hasiuk notes that daylight harvesting is one of the key energy efficiency strategies in the school design. Light sensors detect if there is enough daylight in a room, and automatically turn fluorescent light fixtures on or off. Interior light shelves, coloured glass and semi-transparent glass reduce glare.
Acoustics, Hasiuk acknowledges, were the most challenging part of the open and flexible central commons area. Number TEN used a combination of acoustic treatments throughout the space, with the most interesting being acoustic panels that appear to be dancing green leaves hanging from the ceiling, adding some whimsy to the space.
Westridge Construction began work on the project in March 2011. Project Manager Harley Friesen says one of the first things Westridge had to address was the safety issue, since the construction site was beside the existing school play area. A chain link fence worked well, Friesen notes. In addition, all materials deliveries were scheduled to avoid the times when kids were coming and going from school. Friesen adds that installing energy efficient equipment and LEED standard materials has its benefits, and one drawback.
“For the most part, installing the equipment is the same,” Friesen observes. “LEED materials all require a low VOC rating, but they install the same, whether it is carpet, paint or glues. The low VOC content actually makes the building more pleasant to work in. The biggest challenge is the LEED paperwork. Contractors wish they could do away with a lot of the paperwork,” Friesen states. One of the most interesting elements of the building design, he continues, is the glulam columns and beams that contribute to the open, airy feel of the school’s interior.
“Those glulam columns and beams really set the building apart from other schools we have built,” says Friesen. “The two-storey commons area will really stand out.” Hasiuk echoes those comments, noting that the quality and warmth of the materials, the plentiful daylight, the dancing green glass and the non-institutional feeling of the school are particular sources of satisfaction for the Number TEN team. In addition, being given the opportunity to create exterior learning environments – a playful composition of colourful wall panels, bricks and windows that reflects Douglas Park School’s identity as “the school in the park” – give the building a light, natural feeling, Hasiuk says.
Link to News article on Douglas Park School