Campus Modernization

Five Ways to Turn an Existing Media Center into a Multipurpose, Collaborative Space

By Linda Umoh

Our pre-K through eighth-grade Catholic parish school was built in 2001, so it’s still considered fairly “young” as far as educational institutions go. With education evolving at the speed of light over the last two decades, we simply can’t afford to rest on our laurels—even if those laurels are younger than those of most other schools.

Knowing this, we kicked off a modernization effort about five years ago. We’ve been going through the school and updating things, changing the look of the school and even repainting walls. We also purchased new, collaborative-style desks for our middle school, upgraded our science lab, and created a maker space complete with 3D printers and millions of Legos.

Then we set our sights on our media center. The large room that housed our computer lab, the media center was aging—short on space and in need of an overhaul.

Here are five steps that we took to transform it into a collaborative, multipurpose space that our students, teachers, and parents love:

  1. Tap into existing community resources. Around the same time that we were considering what to do with our media center, a local library was closing and looking for a good place to unload its large shelving units. We were the happy recipients of that furniture, which we used to organize our media center books into a more compact space. That freed up a lot of room on our media center floor. To fund our project, we turned to several individual donors who contributed via our school’s annual gala fundraiser.
  2. Think like a minimalist. Our goal wasn’t to just fill every inch of available space with modern furniture; we wanted to leave some space for movement and collaboration. So, we not only replaced our aging carpeting with luxury vinyl tile, but we also called on MiEN for help replacing our existing “clunker” computer tables with more modern, comfortable options for students and teachers to use. We wanted something very clean-looking, streamlined, and minimal that didn’t take up a lot of space. We knew that we could still have excellent technology for our kids to use, but without having that equipment taking up the whole room.
  3. Enlist input from others. Once we had a design in mind, we showed it to a former technology teacher on our school board. She said we needed to make some changes, namely in terms of how the computers were being set up. From the instructor’s perspective, she wanted to be able to see all of the screens, so we rearranged things to make that happen. We also enlisted the help of our art teacher, who selected a beautiful color palettes that made the room even more inviting and engaging for students.
  4. Consider comfort. Kids of all ages love plopping down on a comfortable chair to take a break, read a book, or get their homework done. Knowing this, we installed soft seating throughout the media center and complemented it with a selection of individual computer desks and large tables for group learning and collaboration. Our Media Center Specialist has been taking students into the center for tours and to talk to them about the procedures and expectations related to computer utilization and the right way to utilize and treat the furnishings. “They were all blown away by it,” she said, “and right away just wanted to get in there and get cozy.”
  5. Partner with a reliable vendor. MiEN brought a lot of excitement in the door with them when they came to visit our school.  They were also the only company that was able to come in and show us photos of past projects, which helped us a lot in not only selecting them as our partner but also in coming up with our own design. It’s also important to find a partner that knows—and can live within—your budget, and that provides alternatives and suggestions as you make your way through the process.

When I saw our media design on paper, I couldn't imagine that it would look as beautiful as it does when I’m actually sitting in it. The end result is a multipurpose, welcoming space that parents, teachers, and students are all excited about. We're very happy with it.

Linda Umoh is Principal at St. Stephen Catholic School in Riverview, Fla.