Transforming a school into a beacon for 21st century elementary education and a source of community pride.

Orchard Place Elementary School
Des Plaines CCSD 62
Des Plaines, IL

The Des Plaines School District commissioned Wight & Company to provide design-build services for Orchard Place Elementary School. The multi-phased, award-winning project consisted of both in-place renovations and the addition of a new building wing to house classroom space, administrative offices, a gymnasium, a cafeteria, and special education offices. 

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Project Challenge

The Orchard Place Elementary School project was one component of a three-phase, $109 million, District-wide “Renaissance” of 11 school facilities focused on meeting the growing needs of the Des Plaines School District. Orchard Place was one of the District’s oldest facilities and was greatly in need of improvement. Narrow hallways dictated that lockers be located in the classrooms, reducing the usable space in each room. Additionally, the existing building layout provided limited opportunities for collaborative exercises and activities. The school lunchroom was located in the basement in two separate, cramped rooms without any exposure to natural light or direct access to the outside.  The safety and security of students and staff was compromised, and the visitor entry sequence was ineffective. Traffic patterns at the exterior were not clearly defined and the overall image of the facility did little to announce the prominence and importance of the school within the community. In short, a complete overhaul of the building was needed.

Our Solution

We divided the renovation into two construction phases. The first phase involved the construction of a new, two-story classroom/gymnasium wing immediately behind the oldest portion of the building. Once that was completed, students and staff vacated the original 1947 wing and began using the addition. The vacated portion of the facility was then immediately torn down to make way for parking and drop-off lanes.


Renovations for the remainder of the facility, including complete infrastructure upgrades, occurred the following summer and not one day of school was lost or cut short as a result of this activity. From the outside, the entire building appears to be a completely new facility. The second floor rain screen façade, in combination with alternating precast concrete panels and stone veneer walls, projects a refined contemporary appearance. An abundance of glazing around the addition is used to maximize the amount of daylight that penetrates into the building. It also serves to increase visibility in and around the building, ultimately conveying an appropriate sense of controlled accessibility of this community beacon to the public.

Inside, the color and material finish palettes were chosen and implemented to provide a consistent look and feel between the new and renovated spaces. The cafeteria and student commons area exemplifies this interface as it straddles the new and renovated sides of the building and has become the main hub of the school. Other social zones and small breakout areas are scattered throughout the facility to support the spontaneous, dynamic activities happening all day long.

Community Destination
This revitalized institution is a source of community pride and is utilized on a 24/7 basis. The refreshed building image, through its extensive use of glazing, conveys a sense of openness and welcomes community members to experience ways in which students learn in the new millennium. Additionally, play fields and playground equipment were either expanded or maintained in the final design solution as recreational facilities are at a premium in the community.


Prototypical Design

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 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.

Specific to Orchard Place Elementary School, the new T.I.L.E. is centrally located between the main entrance lobby and commons area for ease of access before, during, and after school hours. Staff training seminars and community group meetings can also be accommodated in this space.

Awards & Recognition

  • 2013 Best K-12 Education Project, ENR Midwest
  • 2013 Merit Award Finalist, Construction Under $15 Million, Chicago Building Congress
  • 2012 Award of Merit, Excellence in the Design of Educational Environments, Illinois Association of School Boards