Design Award Entries

Vaughn Elementary School

The design concept is an abstraction of children playing in a stream and incorporates organic elements in the playful use of materials and finishes.
Designed to accommodate 700 students, the facility includes classrooms, art/music rooms, computer lab, gymnasium, collaboration spaces, dining, stage, media center, broadcasting room, teacher workroom, administration area, and parent center.
“Collaborate/Learn/Play” spaces in academic corridors feature a light wall, sensory walls, wall-mounted exploration stations, and climbing wall.

Project Statement

The design concept for the new elementary school is an abstraction of children playing in an Ozark stream and incorporates organic elements in the playful use of materials and finishes.

Heavy aggregate ground polished concrete floors represent the gravel and rock bed of the stream that changes to a light grind entering the classrooms, or the sandy banks off of the central stream corridors. From there the design moves up the wall with shades of blue fabric wrapped acoustic wall panels to represent the flowing water line moving down the stream corridor. Within the classrooms the built-in millwork is constructed in earthtone and patterns to mimic woods and trees on the stream banks. At the public spaces the stream opens into larger bodies of water for exploration. The water represented by acoustic wall panels continues to move around the space with the addition of ceiling-hung baffles in shades of green representing water grasses, and circular acoustic lights and clouds to represent lily pads floating on the surface. The shadows cast by the lily pads onto the rock stream below are represented by darker dyed circles on the polished concrete floor.
Some light fixtures are a combination of linear bronze elements to mimic logs and twigs afloat at the water line above. The stream builds up as students make their way into the cafeteria, the central location of the school, featuring large blue gypsum acoustic ceiling clouds. The small holes in these ceiling clouds serve as the image of bubbles building up as the stream turns into a waterfall down the back of the stage. The colors are all shades of blue and green with brown earthtones to promote the biophilic design. Clerestory and upper windows are utilized in several locations to filter light into the central stream corridor. The design feature spills out of the building into the canopy structures with open sections and trellis sections to mimic the abstracted water grasses in the color of green along with the green mullions of the storefront window system. As the children leave the building and enter the playground, the design is reiterated in the playground equipment with the same color theme as the building and lily pad wobble seats and tree-like canopy structures.

The single-story facility designed to accommodate 700 students (Kindergarten through Grade Four) includes academic classrooms, art and music rooms, computer lab, gymnasium, collaboration spaces, dining area, stage, media center, broadcasting room, teacher workroom, administration area, and parent center.

Three Collaborate/Learn/Play spaces incorporated in each academic corridor feature a light wall, sensory walls created with brightly colored foam pool noodles cut to different lengths, wall-mounted exploration stations, and a climbing wall.

The school is located in the southwest area of the school district boundary which has created an environment of two different user groups. One group consists of the rural community of families that have lived in the area for multiple generations, and a second group residing in the sprawling subdivisions being built at a fast pace through the southwestern part of the school district where large parcels of land are being sold off by these multiple generational land owners. The community of Vaughn, adjacent to the school, made a request for the school to be named Vaughn Elementary School after this community which has aided in uniting this space and creating a public entity in the community that they are proud to be a part of. The school is directly northeast of the county fairgrounds which provides opportunity for rural community use for meeting and gathering space and has become a great partner with the school by inviting the school to use its large open buildings for events instead of modifying the daily use of the school to bring large groups into the school. A single-story building design is appropriate for the scale of the surrounding farming community. The building façade is a combination of stone and brick, minimizing the amount of metal panel and utilizing more traditional building materials to address the context of the local environment. In addition, the plantings required for the site were located around the perimeter of the site to create a more natural break between the road access and the building.

Specific goals for this project design were focused on site placement, enhancing visibility and daylighting, and removing the feeling of isolation and creating a community environment, instead.

Specific design requirements for a successfully functioning site included the following requirements from the school district: Separate parent and bus drives, access to parking for staff and visitors not blocked by the parent drive stacking, 1000’ of double lane stacking depth, on site bus storage, separate entrance and parking for building service staff (janitorial and kitchen) to accommodate different working hours and multiple site deliveries, locate parking lot to receive sunlight for winter snow and ice melt, gymnasium access to paved area for bicycle riding program, and secure and visually protected playground area. All of these requirements were met by the design team with the building and site placement. Careful site placement of the building also addressed the sloping site and efficiently balanced the existing site to utilize all onsite material as engineered fill to create building and parking pads without the requirement of hauling in or hauling out onsite earth.

State law requires that classroom doors be locked at all times, creating a need for visual connection. This school was designed so that every classroom has a large window to the exterior, maximizing daylighting and natural views to the exterior. The main circulation corridor has upper clerestory windows to allow daylight to filter into the interior circulation spine. Public spaces such as the media center, cafeteria and administration all have large window walls to the exterior to reinforce the connection to surroundings and promote a sense of place. Classroom doors have sidelight glass adjacent to the hinge side allowing visual connection for students and teachers with their peers throughout the school day.

In interviewing the principals and staff from the last two built elementary schools within this school district we learned that designs that created specific wings for only a selected group were creating a feeling of isolation for those students and teachers instead of creating a special place or identity for them as per the original design request and intention. Therefore, the layout of this school created three main educational wings as follows: 1. Kindergarten and First Grade, 2. Second and Third Grades, 3. Special Education and Fourth Grade. This configuration allows for the youngest learners to be closest to administration and creates an opportunity for the oldest learners to be leaders of the school and further develop compassion and acceptance of others, being in the same community with special education classrooms. Each wing includes a central Collaborate/Play/Learn space to create opportunity for multiple classrooms to come together for engaging activities.

It was important that the design support and enhance current and future pedagogical learning methods and contribute to the student and teacher experience. The modern classroom requires technology, space and pedagogy. Within pedagogy there are four core learning profiles: auditory learners, tactile/kinesthetic learners, visual learners, reading and writing learners. Classroom space and tools are set into place to provide opportunities for all learning types. Working with the school district technology program the core classrooms are set up with a large format TV flanked by a marker board on each side. The technology department has chosen to be completely wireless allowing teachers to set up their desk at any location and have flexibility to move around the classroom. All rooms are 1:1 with students having their own devices. With the wireless set up students can also share their work to the TV monitor in collaborative study. The marker boards allow for multiple spaces to quickly write on a surface or leave written instruction up while the TV monitor is changing between different learning exercises. A large tackboard surface is provided on an adjacent wall to display visual teaching guides. Classroom in-ceiling speakers are installed to ensure all students can hear the auditory recordings being utilized. All classrooms have access to the Collaborate/Play/Learn spaces which are set up with multiple hands-on visually stimulating activities. The accessibility of these spaces gives children the opportunity for quick play activities and movement which help students retain information when learning activities follow active play periods.

The design met the District’s strategic program - vision, goals, and bottom line - while supporting the needs of key stakeholders and the fundamental components of contemporary education design.

Through decades of providing architectural services for this fast-growing school district, we had been working with the District weekly, creating a very trusting relationship. Because staff is not hired until the project has started construction, we utilize the staff from the most recent built schools for input to develop program and a design that supports the needs of the school district. The design for this project began in February 2020 and our client team consisted of principals from the two past built elementary schools which opened in 2017 & 2019 along with the typical involvement of the school district facilities director, superintendent, CFO and deputy superintendent and director of elementary education. District priorities included a flexible learning environment, school safety within and around the building, low maintenance, and daylighting into every classroom.

The proof that a flexible learning environment was created is best demonstrated by what occurred in the first year of operation. One of the applicants interviewing for the position of principal for the new school called the architect’s project manager to discuss the design of the building prior to his interview so he would know all the features that he had to work with. He was selected for the job and took this information and ran with it. He submitted the new school for consideration as a STEM elementary school and Vaughn Elementary was one of ten schools selected in the state to begin this program. The flexible Collaborate/Play/Learn spaces in each wing and the lab that opens into the media center have been utilized to create the three hubs and one central STEM location that feed into all the classroom STEM programs. The school has worked with the local children’s museum to create educational plans to utilize the activity items already constructed into the Collaborate/Play/Learn space such as the light shadow wall, foam noodle wall and climbing wall. In addition, high school juniors and seniors in the District’s future educators program have studied these spaces and learned to create and develop additional educational plans in these spaces.
School safety is a topic of vital importance, and the state government has created many requirements regarding building design. School safety items incorporated in the building include a very visible administration entrance and shatter resistant glazing used throughout the building interior. The classroom entries were able to maintain a full height vision light adjacent to the hinge side of the door. The public spaces of the school have a great deal of glass at the interior and exterior, utilizing the principles of natural security, allowing everyone to be seen and creating constant connection and community within the school. Protection into the core of the school is created with an exterior intercom, followed by a secured entry vestibule and ID check at the administrative office. The central cafeteria space is designed in a way to be out of the visual site line of the main entrance into the school.

Construction Management was utilized to constantly monitor and verify the budget for financial planning purposes with a very successful bid day coming in 12% below the last created budget.