Hackberry Elementary School
Broadly-based input for this new elementary school was gathered by creating a committee that included district administrators, elementary principals, teachers, staff, parents and community members. Specific project goals and issues were defined during several programming sessions, and addressed in a week-long on-site design session with the architectural team, consultants and the committee. Major design challenges for the project were:
Provide flexible spaces for all types of instruction and learning
Encourage collaboration within grade levels
Create efficient circulation to shared spaces and within grade levels
Incorporate daylighting in all learning spaces
Provide a hub for the surrounding community
Herald the new, progressive direction of the school district and community
With interactive input from the committee, the design team developed and refined the schematic design of the new facility. A site plan, floor plans and elevations evolved until the preliminary design was valued by all involved. A strong consensus mandated the design of spaces to encourage and accommodate new teaching methods.
With a star-shaped plan, classrooms encircle a flex space to create grade level “pods.” Each pod includes restrooms on the path to and from the playground. Classroom clusters encourage teacher collaboration and the flex space provides an area for shared computers, small group instruction or multi-class activities. Clerestory windows flood the flex space with daylight, making it a friendly and inviting space in which to work and learn. Special programs are centrally located for easy access by all students.
In the post-occupancy review with campus staff, we learned that the design has had an impact on the students’ daily learning experience and the campus’ sense of community. Individual grade level pods provide a feeling of autonomy from the other grades, as well as strengthen the team within each pod. Staff and students consider pods to be their “neighborhoods”, and each shared pull-out space functions as the gathering point for the neighborhood. The configuration of this shared area fosters teamwork and collaboration, letting teachers to get to know each other and the students better.
Abundant natural daylight is incorporated throughout the building. Every group teaching space has a window due to the star-shaped plan. The depth of the valleys between each point of the star allows windows into interior spaces like the art studio, music room, and library. The glazed curtain wall segments in the main corridor introduce daylighting into the central core of the building and the interior of the library, creating day-lit incidental spaces along the circulation path.
The design features intersecting planes of industrial and high-tech materials to create a progressive image contrasting with the district’s former, traditional “little red school house” image. Exterior concrete, metal and glass punch through the building envelope and race down the main corridor, dramatically serving to “mix it up” with the colorful interior and create a spontaneous child-like mixture of elements. Light monitors, floating ceilings and varied light sources create visual surprises throughout the building.
Individual grade level pods are considered “neighborhoods” by the students. Each neighborhood is open enough so that all kids can gather in their hallway without bothering the other grades. Hallways also offer generous display space for student work, giving students a sense of pride in exhibiting their accomplishments. The unique shape of classrooms allows for flexibility in creating individual smaller group learning activities. Computer stations are just outside the classroom door in a widened corridor that serves as flex space for each grade level.
The library is the heart of the school and is considered the “living room”. Kids know that if you can read you can do everything else. Surrounded by glass walls, the importance of reading is evident as little kids see the big kids reading in the library and vice versa. Rarely unoccupied, this space is warm and comfortable, with the larger expanse of glass connecting to the outside.
Natural light throughout the school adds a bright, energetic quality that is good for mind, body and spirit. We have seen higher attendance rates for both staff and students since opening the school. We didn’t want the building to be all about places to go; we wanted some places where we could just “be.” Our commons area is ideal for having students queue-up for trips to the library, dining, gym, etc. The central commons area has also served as a polling place for our mock presidential election.
This building has helped the kids have a sense of ownership and has made it so easy for them to create their own identities. With computers, workrooms and bathrooms all right there at their fingertips, it also offers centrally located spaces for collaboration as well as pull-out areas for smaller individual instruction. The building has also been used as a tool in teaching various science, math and writing assignments. Students have been growing seeds in different lighting environments inside as a science experiment. They have used the building perimeter for working with distance measurements. Kids have also used the actual floor plan to help them write instructions for how to traverse the building.
With three separate circle drives (K-1, 2-4 and bus), drop-off and pick-up arrangements are much safer for the children. The drives also allow everyone in the school to be released in twenty minutes. Our school has become the focal point of the surrounding community; both playgrounds are used as the neighborhood park. Cafeteria and gym spaces are used after hours by Boy Scout groups, the YMCA, cheerleaders and basketball teams.