Best Practices in Educational Facilities Investments

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Facility of the week

Marysville Getchell High School, Marysville, WA, United States

The Marysville School District was just beginning the transition from traditional school environments to the Small Learning Communities educational program when the design for Marysville Getchell began. The absence of detailed curricular requirements allowed the design team to critically re-examine the core intent and function of educational spaces to designing a building that not only accommodates the physical needs of a school but an environment that supports and inspires students preparing to move for college, careers, and active, responsible membership in their communities. The sense of belonging to the larger whole begins with ownership and belonging in one’s environment. Each SLC (“small learning community”) has a distinct vision, mission and focus imbedded in the school’s culture. This identity is articulated in the versatile architecture of each SLC building. Students select SLC’s reflective of their specific learning needs and interests and are immersed in that focus through the curriculum reinforced by the architecture. Each SLC has its own principal.

Learning Occurs in All Spaces. Marysville Getchell High School breaks down conventions of the “cells and bells” teaching and learning styles, recasting spaces on a framework of fundamental learning needs, and organising them into an environment of student-focused learning. The elimination of corridors and hallways makes every space an active, vital part of the learning process, and a dispersed library system brings books and resources to the students in those open spaces at every level of the school.

Transparency Creates Connections. Transparency within the SLC and Community Commons buildings plays a fundamental role in establishing an environment that supports a strong sense of belonging and accountability. Interactions between the classroom and the collaborative open spaces encourage independent exploration on the part of the student while maintaining availability and interaction with the staff.

Campus Design Enables Outdoor Learning. Exterior learning spaces on every level of the SLC building as well as an expansive largely wooded site celebrate the pristine surroundings and engage students beyond the traditional learning environment. The emphasis on collaborative, open, engaging learning spaces creates an environment in which students find increased personal accountability, independence, pride and confidence.

Design Aligns with the Guiding Principles. Housing each school in its own SLC building provides the unique challenge of creating spaces that are universal to all schools while allowing spaces to be personalized by the individual SLC’s to meet their specific needs. Using the five Guiding Principles as a programmatic foundation, the design team distilled academic learning spaces down to eight “universal” functions: Core Learning: instructional space, Specialized Learning: Curriculum-specific space, Applied Learning: “Real world” application of learning, Project Learning: Inter-disciplinary, interactive projects, Science: Labs and grounds, Learning Commons: resource/research area, and interactive/interdisciplinary support spaces to Core Learning, Social Commons: informal gathering spaces, Admin/Student Services: Administration.

Universal Spaces Support Changing Curricula. In designing spaces that address styles of learning independent of specific curricula, while at the same time able to adapt to the unique and varying needs of the different SLC programs, the buildings celebrate the effectiveness of the universal.

Flexible Spaces by Design. The “shell and core” prototype design, which pushes load-bearing structure and plumbing largely to the exterior wall, allows for effective accommodation of all current SLC needs as well a means for easy future changes.

Global Citizenship. Marysville Getchell High School’s focus of creating an environment that fosters stewardship of its surroundings and a global perspective was instilled in the project from its inception. Design embraced a conscious approach to creating responsible buildings that respect and celebrate the surrounding environment. Supporting educational exhibits create an awareness of how the school integrates with the landscape, local and global communities.

Connection to Site. Site preservation, protection of wetlands and the existing second growth forest were a primary focus of the site design. Buildings touch the ground as minimally as possible and designs adapt to the notable slope of the site while at the same time taking into account careful building orientation to maximize natural daylight.

Resource Conservation. In lieu of mechanical cooling, operable windows combined with the shade of the forest canopy provide a comfortable and user-controlled indoor environment. Responsible water management efforts can be found throughout the site: rain gardens have been placed in the minimally-paved parking lots; conscious use of pervious paving materials and wood mulch paths (chipped from trees and brush removed from the site) minimize hardscapes throughout; and two of the SLC buildings return roof-water run-off to the surrounding wetlands.

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About this database

The OECD Centre for Effective Learning Environments (CELE) and the European Investment Bank (EIB) launched the “Database of Best Practices in Educational Facilities Investment” on 29 September 2011. It seeks to inform the planning, design, construction, management and evaluation of educational spaces, combining resources for strategic investment in educational infrastructure, with exemplary school and university facilities from all over the world.

Drawing on the output of a joint CELE/European Investment Bank project on “Strategic Investment Planning for Educational Infrastructure” and more than 60 exemplary schools and universities featured in CELE’s flagship publication, “Designing for Education: Compendium of Exemplary Educational Facilities 2011”, this database is a unique international resource for educators, designers, policymakers and researchers alike.

Users of the database are encouraged to add their own resource material, or submit new completed university or school projects for publication on the database. OECD and EIB welcome your input to our project!

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