One school ‘like a Starbucks without the coffee’
NORTH BAY — Open floorplan, open source, open classroom — the way K–12 schools are upgraded and new ones built are starting to have more in common with Silicon Valley, and that’s by design.
Two recent examples of the state and national push for cutting-edge learning environments are the Larkspur-Corte Madera and Healdsburg Unified school districts. New elementary schools in southern Marin County and significant upgrades in the northern Sonoma County area illustrate the four main principles for such modern campuses — “differentiated learning, multiple modalities, multidisciplinary teaching and real-world skills development” — put forth by draft federal “21st century schools” specifications.
“Not every kid learns at the same rate and in the same way,” said Mark Quattrocchi, a principal architect of Quattrocchi Kwok Architects.
The Santa Rosa-based firm has been working with both districts and a number of others in Northern California eager to tap state and local bond money for modernization and new construction and meet evolving state education goals.
Rather than the typical 1,000-square-foot classroom that has one door and aligns students toward a teacher for all instruction, the new “learning suites” focus on collaboration between teachers and students. Adjoining rooms have acoustically insulated glass walls that can be folded or slid back to allow teachers and students in adjoining rooms to work together. Conference tables and easily movable furniture replace individual desks. Flat panel TVs and floor-to-ceiling whiteboards are for presentations and brainstorming sessions. The rooms also open to the outside, so students can work on some assignments outside under teacher supervision.
This is based on input from educators and school administrators and from tours of Bay Area companies the architects led for faculty and staff.
“The more they talked about what they wanted, the more we thought of the high-tech world,” Mr. Quattrocchi said.
From such a tour to Google’s campus on the Peninsula, Larkspur-Corte Madera officials and instructors zeroed in on the company’s café approach to a cafeteria as a model for a reworked San Clemente Elementary, called The Cove. The cost of the project is estimated to be $15 million and it is set to welcome 350 students this fall.
Rather than a traditional isolated elementary school multipurpose building and cafeteria, Cove’s café is the main entrance, with the library, offices and some classrooms directly off it. In addition to being a place for students to eat, the center will have flexible seating for small groups and individual work as well as a platform for small- and large-group presentations from a platform served by wireless video projection. Like the “learning suites,” the room also has large sliding glass doors that open to the campus common area.
Quattrocchi Kwok had designed a similar entrance meeting place with café styling for a two-story student union at Cupertino High School. The $16.6 million facility opened in January.
“There, it is like a Starbucks without the coffee,” Mr. Quattrocchi said.
Classroom modernization also is part of the $26 million renovation project for Neil Cummins Elementary in Corte Madera. Both projects were funded by the $26 million Measure A bond approved by voters in 2011.
In Healdsburg, a master plan has been completed for modernization of Healdsburg High School and such planning is in progress for upgrades to Healdsburg Junior High School.
“Thanks to Measure E, our campuses are undergoing extensive modernization to support 21st century instruction,” Superintendent Jeff Harding, PhD, wrote in a letter to the community. “Robust wireless networks, projection systems and flexible learning spaces are being developed. The classroom of the future more accurately reflects the real-world environment that students will experience after graduation.”
Funded by $35 million in general-obligation bonds voters approved as Measure E in June 2012, the district is looking to get rid of about a dozen portable classrooms on the east side of the road that bisects the junior high school, close that road to traffic and add a new wing to the school. A goal for the high school is to add more STEM and “maker” spaces for teaching science.
Construction on the junior high project is set to begin the second week of June, with renovations to existing classrooms expected to be complete in August and the new classrooms ready in summer 2015.
Construction on the high school project, which includes improved science labs, an auditorium, an instructional kitchen for culinary arts and upgraded technology, is scheduled to begin in June 2015.
The Sonoma County Office of Education is considering the creation of a STEM/maker demonstration classroom at its north Santa Rosa offices.
“When the public hears architects talk about these kind of schools, many think this costs millions of dollars, but we can take a wood shop and convert it to a maker space,” Mr. Quattrocchi said.
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