Iroquois Community School required a complete reconstruction of its interior core. The major design challenge was to create a building that served the needs of students across the Kindergarten-through-8th-grade age spectrum. Nowhere else in the school building did we face this challenge more than in the renovation of the library, or Academic Research Center (ARC), as it was ultimately renamed. The year-long academic calendar also posed a unique construction challenge during the implementation phase.
Wight & Company’s approach involved obtaining extensive input from parents, faculty, and the community. A thoughtful design strategy that embraced this input resulted in a successfully renovated school that features improved circulation, maximized natural light, and a refreshed overall building image.
Central to the facility, and thus to the successful design, was the library, or Academic Research Center (ARC). Accessible from three sides, the ARC serves as a way-finding element and a natural hub of activity within the school. Inspired by energized dot-com working environments, our design solution was focused on defining collaboration zones within and around the ARC. Spaces were provided for large and small group activities, and many different seating options, including fixed booth seats and freestanding tables and chairs of varying heights, were strategically placed both inside the ARC and in the hallways surrounding the ARC to provide opportunities for spontaneous social engagement and one-on-one instructional assistance away from the formal classroom setting.
Extensive use of glazing and similar finish materials, extending from the ARC into the corridor, helped to dissolve the barriers between spaces and keep all areas in the facility visually connected to each other. The design of the entire facility takes its cues from the ARC, reflecting the same spirit through the playful and sophisticated use of color and the seamless integration of social spaces.
While each of the 11 schools included in the District-wide “Renaissance” enjoyed new educational environments that critically supported a broad curriculum and a variety of learning/teaching styles, a prototype for a unique supportive space type was developed in response to new-found space efficiencies. Newly captured space at several schools, including Iroquois, was converted into technology-rich, flexible classrooms called Technology Integrated Learning Environments (T.I.L.E.s).
T.I.L.E.s were conceptualized to serve as “living laboratories” where students and teachers could experiment with different technologies, furniture options, and teaching approaches before implementing them district-wide. A driving force behind the use of T.I.LE.s was to make classroom media easily available to students. Furniture must be agile and the overall spaces should be accommodating to active learning styles and techniques.
T.I.L.E. spaces were designed to include smart boards, integrated hand-held device technology, floor-to-ceiling marker boards, tackable wall surfaces, and a variety of casual, mobile and ergonomically correct furniture.
At Iroquois Community School, the prototypical T.I.L.E. space is placed inside the ARC. Sliding glass doors separate the space from the more traditional library area, but can easily be moved to create an expanded space for all-staff meetings and school-wide gatherings.
- 2013 Award of Distinction, Excellence in the Design of Educational Environments, Illinois Association of School Boards