2009 Exhibition of School Planning and Architecture. St. Thomas School. Medina, Washington New Construction Project of Distinction Bassetti Architects. St. Thomas School. A Contextual Response. Community Environment:
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Project of Distinction
St. Thomas School islocated adjacent to the neighborhood landmark St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Medina, Washington. The new two-story school building is sensitively designed to harmonize with the subdued color palette and materials of the church. The school’s exterior cladding alternates white-gray brick with anodized bronze fenestration, echoing the rhythm of the church’s stone and stained glass windows.
St. Thomas School engages the Medina community through joint-use of the facility. After school hours, the commons and gym are frequented by church parishioners and community members. Two of St. Thomas School’s classrooms serve as common spaces for Sunday school. The parking lot is shared both by school and church users, and also functions as a regional commuter Park-and-Ride.
Enhancing the ecological health of the site and surrounding community, bioswales, vegetated detention areas, and under-pavement gravel detention beds treat all stormwater runoff.
The green roof near the art and science classrooms offers an opportunity for outdoor instruction. Meanwhile, water features visible throughout the school celebrate and connect students to the natural environment of their surrounding community.
St. Thomas School teaches environmental responsibility and energy savings by example, reinforcing the school’s mission to develop responsible citizens of a global society.
St. Thomas School is organized into two wings, extending from a central core that contains a multi-purpose space, a gymnasium, administrative offices, kitchen facilities and mechanical rooms. Organized in grade based pairs, classrooms spanning first through sixth grades comprise the two-story west wing. The north wing contains the Early Learning Center, library, and specialty classrooms for science, technology, language, art and music.
Addressing the latest research on cognitive learning for early childhood education, St. Thomas School’s flexible learning spaces are designed to stimulate various senses, engage diverse learning styles and nurture multiple intelligences.
In each wing, classrooms are grouped around large shared circulation and teaching spaces called plazas. These flexible areas provide an activity zone for multiple classes, group learning, tutoring, as well as breakout spaces for individual activities.
Irregular in shape, the plazas are integral in the design strategy that layers spaces from structured to casual. This sequence begins in the nurturing space of the classroom, transitions to the free-form space in the plaza, moves to the protective roof of a covered outdoor area at each wing, and finally to the open environment of the playground, where play and casual activities are encouraged.
Designed to LEEDTM Gold standards, finishes in each room emphasize natural materials and low VOC paints to create a comfortable, healthy space for students and users. All wood throughout the building is FSC certified, further solidifying the school’s commitment to sustainability.
Signage and graphics throughout the school incorporate images of natural flora, expressing the school’s thematic aphorism, “Mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow.” Embedded in the floor of each wing are representations of the various seasonal stages of the oak tree. From the acorn to the seedling, to the leaves, to the trunk, the school uses the oak tree as a teaching tool to tell a story about the nature outdoors.
Further supporting sustainable design goals, high performance features are integrated into a stimulating and supportive learning environment. All learning spaces employ natural daylighting, supplemented by efficient lighting design, which allows them to function most of the year without electric lighting.
First and second floor classrooms are illuminated by tall windows and skylights. In a highly effective natural ventilation system, convection exhaust shafts and motorized dampers work with exterior louvers to provide fresh air and control temperatures without fans or ductwork. Consequently, no air conditioning is needed in the classrooms.
In a collaborative design process, the Head of School, Facilities Director, Board Members, Chief Financial Officer, Owner’s Representative, staff, parents, church members, and architects established two main project goals:
Goal 1 The building must support St. Thomas School’s educational program by addressing the latest research on cognitive development*
Goal 2 The building must demonstrate leadership in environmental responsibility.
Pursuing National Best Practices for Early Childhood Education, the design team also brought in an outside consultant. Weekly meetings and regular feedback loops ensured the success of the project. Every classroom was tailored to accommodate diverse teaching styles and learning needs.
*See Brain Rules on next slide
Rule 1:Brains Construct Meaning for Themselves – The St. Thomas School building tells a story about oak trees and climate to provide meaning
Rule 2:Emotions are the Gatekeeper to Learning – Layers of space from the home-base classroom to flex areas, to specialty spaces, to covered play, to playground provide a secure, nurturing environment as well as opportunities for exploration and discovery
Rule 3:Every Brain is Different and Every Brain Processes Information Differently – Variety of learning settings and spaces throughout the school provide flexibility, adaptability, contemplative and active learning opportunities
Rule 4:Stimulate Multiple Senses – Multi-sensory environments play with color, pattern, texture, light and dark, high and low, interior and exterior spaces
Rule 5:Learning is Social – Variety of group learning spaces provide small and large, as well as formal and informal settings
January 2006Project start
March – April 2006 Master Planning complete and Programming begins
June 2006Supplemental Use Permit
June – October 2006 Schematic Design
October 2006Programming complete
October 2006 – February 2007Design Development
June 2007Construction Documents
March 2007 Submitted building permit
June 2007 Issued building permit
July 2007 Construction begins
March 2008 Construction complete on-time for school start in September