Located on the border of growing northwest Arkansas, the Jim Rollins Elementary School of Innovation’s shed-like forms, scale and materials echo the agrarian sense of the region and reimagines the “idea of school”, by putting education on display, inviting exploration, collaboration and promoting student agency.
The architects led an interactive series of visioning sessions with district and community members to imagine a bold new design. Team members sketched positive memories from their own elementary school experience and shared them with the team. The poignant responses helped reframe the conversation from a child’s perspective. Participants then worked in pairs to rethink the building program and school model. What emerged was a planning language that guided the design concept reflecting the community’s tight-knit character of a “town” with public spaces, community facilities, and intimate neighborhood extensions.
The Tontitown campus is located between the historic St Joseph’s church and cemetery. The site design acknowledges the relationship between these by aligning the building along an imagined connection. This orientation maximizes daylighting in all areas of the building.
In the uncomplicated building form, economical insulated metal panels, brick, and transparent ribbons of glass are placed to reflect the functional and progressive openness of the interior academic spaces. An angular canopy draws visitors toward the building and a grand, glass entry is welcoming and allows site supervision from the offices beyond.
Inside, the tall entry lobby provides a welcome place before being admitted to the secure interior. Visitors are greeted with adult and student appropriate seating for impromptu conferences, clean color palette, polished concrete floors, playful graphics, contemporary lighting, and views to collaborative learning spaces.
From the lobby, the monumental Learning Stair recalls a band stand on the “Town Square” or public plaza and is bordered by special use “community spaces” of the art lab, maker space, culinary lab space and allows access to a south facing covered plaza. The color and texture rich communal spaces contrast with the clean color palette and identifying graphics of the Square which is capped by acoustical clouds leading you to the upper media center. Centered between the academic neighborhoods, the media center bridges the 2-story volume and provides dramatic exterior views of the surrounding landscape and visually connects to the gymnasium and cafetorium.
Special attention is paid to the unique needs of each age level in the academic neighborhoods. Classrooms become progressively more open and flexible with individual and shared spaces as grades advance. Kindergartens, located on the ground floor are contained rooms with shared, small group rooms and individual restrooms. Colorful “tree huts” for teamwork or independent learning define a path reinforced by lighting and varied canopies. The path leads to a 2-story project lab that is anchored by a writable, graphic wall covering and north facing glazed wall. First and second grades are organized in a more open environment with islands of storage and break-out rooms. The upper level third, fourth, and fifth grade students are clustered in classroom zones ordered by teaching stations. White cubes help define the borders of classrooms, unfolding with a warm, wood palette to provide community sinks, inviting break-out spaces, and personalized places for respite and reflection.
Working closely with the district and the construction manager, a fast-track delivery method to take the project from concept design to owner occupancy in just over 12 months. With a variety of inspiring spaces designed to reflect the dynamic program, the Rollins Elementary School is a thoughtful alternative to the conventional corridor/classroom school, providing an active learning environment that promotes strengthened community, reinforced values, and individual aspirations.