Through a collaborative master planning process, the school district purchased 150 acres of undeveloped woods that separated the high school from three elementary schools. The district’s goal was to relocate the middle school to this new land, unify their campus on one continuous piece of property, and connect all their facilities with a single ring road. The master planning process inspired the district to pursue an environmental ethic with this new purchase and to preserve the natural beauty of the site.
This theme of preserving the environment permeated the design process, which led to organizing the program around elements found in the Ozark landscape – the cave, the bluff, the stream and the shed. The program consisted of a competition gymnasium and a 1,000-seat auditorium that are buried in the hillside and topped with a vegetated roof for maximum storm safety in this tornado-prone area (the cave). A 480’ long retaining wall secures the edge of these safe rooms and serves as a datum line that marks the entrances at both the top and bottom of the ravine (the bluff). Along the retaining wall runs a three-story atrium and cascading stair that is flooded with daylight and is a natural gathering place for social activities (the stream). The classroom wing is one of the only visible signs of construction from the woods and houses the collaborative and ever evolving learning spaces (the shed).
The school board requested a unique, economical, and smart design for their new school. Their goal was to rethink the design of middle schools, and to create a "learning" building that challenged the way students engaged with each other and their environment.
Walls are transparent and operable, allowing the building to be transformed for team teaching and student projects. Outdoor classrooms are extensions of indoor collaboration spaces, allowing students to choose the environment that's right for them. And a three-story atrium connects all three floors of the building, allowing students to connect with their peers and the community. A series of vertical wood slats inspired by the trees beyond provides added safety to the atrium edge. This slat wall acts as a veil allowing ample daylight deep into classrooms while minimizing the apparent openness to floors below.
As with most public schools, the board of education’s goal was to be a good steward of their finances and to build economically. Their initial thoughts for developing the steep topography of the wooded land was the conventional act of scraping the site clear of trees, flattening the hilltops and destroying the natural character of the site. Through a collaborative planning process emphasizing the rugged beauty of the site, they were intrigued by the notion of preserving the land but only if it could save them money. A cost analysis of the various options was created and although the initial construction cost would be slightly higher, the strategically placed building to capture daylight, divert storm water runoff, minimize exterior walls and the increase insulation value would reduce long-term operating costs and more than pay for the increased construction. This not only satisfied the board, it created excitement and interest from the community.
Since the EF-5 tornado ravaged the city of Joplin, Missouri in 2011, tornado safe rooms have been in high demand throughout the Ozarks. Although the Reeds Spring school district wanted to provide safe rooms for their students, they had not been approved for FEMA funding and did not have additional funds beyond what was needed for the Middle School. Through an innovative look at land use, the design team discovered a way to incorporate resilient, underground safe rooms into the project. The school district was thrilled, and the decision was made to bury the gymnasium and auditorium below grade (two spaces that do not typically require daylight). One of the many sustainability concepts incorporated into the design including:
• Orienting the building to work with the existing topography and reduce land disturbance, manage storm water flows, and preserve habitat;
• Reducing exterior walls exposed to the elements (below grade) to increase insulation value, reduce energy use and reduce the project’s carbon footprint;
• Adjusting glass types based on orientation to the sun to reduce heat loss and heat gain while improving occupant comfort;
• Incorporating a 300’ long skylight and large floor to ceiling windows in each classroom to flood the interior with daylight, save energy and improve student learning;
• Introducing high-efficiency ground source heat pumps to reduce energy use and the District’s operating costs;
• Designing a vegetated roof structure to reduce heat gain and lower heating and cooling costs.
Although sustainability was not one of the client’s original goals for the project, a cost analysis showing the difference between a conventional approach and a more sustainable approach convinced the school board to challenge the status quo and paved the way for more sustainable ideas to be incorporated. Land use was one with the biggest effect. The strategic location of the new development disturbed less than 25 acres of open farmland at the edge of the tree line, preserving 84% of the 150-acre site, preserving 99% of the trees and maintaining wildlife habitat.
Material selection was based on locality, durability, low toxicity and natural beauty with an aim to reduce the need for extra materials to provide unnecessary finish. Polished concrete floors, exposed locally-sourced brick and split-faced block walls, and local birch & maple wood slats define the interior pallet along with exposed, high-recycled content, sound-absorbing Tectum roof deck. Brick and block extend out to the exterior with locally sourced cedar siding, and integrally colored cement composite panels in an open joint rainscreen system. Roof material is a TPO membrane.
Dake Wells Architecture is a design-centered practice of architecture, interiors and graphics, with an emphasis on progressive and sustainable design solutions. The firm was founded in 2004 by Brandon Dake, FAIA, LEED AP and Andrew Wells, FAIA, LEED AP, and has grown to serve a variety of public and private clients. Located in Springfield, Missouri, our reputation is growing as a leader in intelligent designs and raising the level of design excellence in the Midwest.
Since our inception, Dake Wells Architecture has been passionate about the work and driven by a purpose of enriching people’s lives. Our goal is to bring order, clarity and unity to each project through our proven planning process. Ultimately, our work is about people. Our desire is that every project is a strong, secure, and energy efficient facility that gives more back to our clients and their community than they ever imagined.
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