Can science students design a school building?

The nation is full of old, dilapidated, and even broken buildings that still serve as schools for many students, and as the focus of policymakers has turned to test scores, some of those schools have had to close their doors, at least occasionally, due to problems with heating, water, or cooling systems.

In Baltimore City, many schools were closed as the New Year started because the air in classrooms was as cold as 40°F. In Chicago, the district has announced it might raze four high schools to build a state-of-the-art school building.

At Rockland Elementary in Libertyville, Illinois, which first opened in the 1920’s, a ceremony Tuesday marked the completion of the seventh physical plant upgrade: a new gym, art and music rooms, storage, offices, a parking lot, and a front vestibule, the Libertyville Review reports. (The $5-million project was completed over the summer, but the ceremony was just this week.)

“I envisioned 1926 and they probably had a similar ceremony except with horses and buggies out there,” the paper quoted Principal Jeff Knapp as saying. “I bet they had a big celebration when they opened up the first school house … something tells me you’re going to be doing the same thing in 40, 50, 60 years. Believe it or not, students, I know it’s hard to think that far in the future but this place will still be here and you’ll be doing the same thing.”

Like Libertyville, some schools in Washington state have also aged and need an upgrade. And one teacher at Laurin Middle School has even figured out a way to teach math and science in conjunction with the physical plant upgrade by having her eighth graders pore over graph paper, ponder where new sinks and bathrooms should be built, purchase building materials, and plan the upgrade, The Columbian reports out of Brush Prairie, Washington.

In a hands-on science elective taught by Joan Smith, students are designing a brand new Laurin Middle School, so that voters in a February 13 special election might get an idea of what to expect from a $225 million bond measure, to be paid off over 21 years, that will include fixes to the aging facilities in the Battle Ground Public Schools.

Laurin Middle is 52 years old and the district’s oldest building. The district plans to completely replace the school if the bond measure is approved by voters.

But in the meantime, there’s engineering, architecture, budgeting. “Before this, I didn’t realize how much work architects and builders go through,” the paper quoted one student as saying after she had deliberated with another about how far to extend tile around a sink.

Representatives from LSW Architects visited the school earlier this year to speak to the class, the paper added, but students have used the opportunity to introduce some creative ideas into the building, as they keep their goal in sight: “Design a school that respects the diversity of students while respecting and enhancing the environment and surrounding landscape.”

So, of course the district has a preconceived idea about how to build the new school, but it is possible that some of the students’ design ideas will influence the final plans. Even if they don’t, though, students “can take pride” in their work, Ms Smith was quoted as saying.

“With every answer there’s another problem,” one student declared, as he calculated how much his idea for the new building would cost.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.