Vista Grande Elementary School
The goal for the firm was to create an elementary school that would not only be a place where children would want to be, it would also be a place where teachers love to teach. Our goal was that the design of building would provide lots of color, space and natural lighting, take advantage of the beautiful site, and that the structure itself could serve as a “teaching tool”.
The design provides for 600 students and is master planned for future growth of an additional 200 students, grades K—5th. The school includes 22 classrooms, a gymnasium/multi-purpose room, a library/media center, a music room, cafeteria/kitchen, playgrounds and an athletic field.
In planning this new school, the architect utilized site features to develop the design concepts for this school. The site has a significant slope and offers spectacular views of the region’s mountains and river valley. The design took advantage of slope to create three classroom “neighborhoods” that step down the hill.
This approach allows for maintaining the views and, at the same time, enhances the visibility of the school grounds from the administrative area. For safety and security, the administrative offices are centrally located and have excellent visibility over all areas of the school.
The “pod” system also provides for a community like campus, with spaces for students to meet and socialize, or teachers to hold group classes. Additionally, the school features numerous quiet time areas for individual learning and processing time.
The sloping site and stepped design provided opportunities to design the building utilizing geometric shapes, accented with colors. In this way, the building itself becomes a teaching device. Each classroom neighborhood or “pod” has its own interaction zone where children can gather for group activities.
Square, rectangular and curved walls combine with primary colors, which creates a variety of interesting spaces for teaching, reading, music, playtime, and quiet-time. Glass walls in corridors and classrooms provide ample natural lighting, as well as strong visibility throughout the buildings for the staff and teachers.
The site also influenced colors and materials chosen for the exterior of the elementary school. In keeping with the architectural style of the community, natural earth tones, indigenous landscaping, and block and stucco were dominant elements. Glass walls are oriented toward views of the mountains and the campus. The design uses shapes, colors, materials and natural light to enhance the learning environment. Exterior colors and materials blend with the natural surrounding.
The school was designed to easily accommodate future expansion for up to 200 more students, for a maximum capacity of 800, and still maintain its design intent and clear lines of sight for safety and security.
The bidding climate for this school was extremely competitive, with the General Contractor winning by less than $10,000. As the bids were under the estimate, the school had additional money available for recreation fields, which were later added to the original campus plan.
How do you like all of the colors and windows?
The bright colors and windows are absolutely a plus; I love the airiness they provide. The library windows look north towards a scared Native American site. It’s a great teaching tool. The one big, picture window is a plus for teachers, they’re finding that architectural design can be taught. The red walls in the library and the cafeteria have been a real exciting feature.
What has been your experience with lines of sight on campus?
A lot of central activities happen in the administrative area. We can monitor the doors and we know who comes in and out of the building, which is a great safety feature.
How are the “Teaching Walls” working out?
The teaching walls are an absolute plus — teachers love them! The teachers requested the space above the teaching wall be extended to provide for more whiteboard space. This will give teachers more of an area for overhead projections.
You have such a neat site. Have you had any outdoor activities this year?
The views are breathtaking — the gym has a great view. You can stand in the hallway and look over the valley, and you can watch the weather change — the storms rolling in over the mountains.
This year we were able to hold our annual bbq outside. Once we have more canopies on the playground, we can have more activities outside. Today, the 1st grade held Water Olympics in the bus drop-off area. The large area comes in handy.
We had to cancel our playground dedication this year because of snow, but all the kids fit in the gymnasium, and that’s good to know.
What is your feeling about the school, overall?
There are some tidbits we would redo — of course hindsight is 20/20 — but overall everyone loves the building. I had the advantage of working with the architect and the facilities director, and most principals don’t get that chance. The facility overall has been just great.
[Compiled from an interview with the school’s principal]