Facilities (Workforce Development)

A Changing Workforce Demands Change in Education

The new Cherry Creek Innovation Campus provides a hands-on experience and offers a curriculum rooted in real-world skills and trade certifications.

Innovation spurs creativity and success. But what spurs innovation? One hour south of Denver, in Centennial, Colorado, innovation stems from a joint effort between a district, a design firm, a community and industry partners who are committed to better preparing students for the changing workforce.

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In advance of a 2016 bond referendum, the Cherry Creek School District embarked on a community engagement process intended to elevate environments and opportunities for its learners. The capstone of the initiative was a career and technical education facility that focuses on innovation and career and college readiness. Upon the successful passage of the bond, DLR Group was selected to lead the planning and programming process that has resulted in a unique synthesis of education and industry.

The process started when stakeholders across the district gathered with DLR Group’s design team to discuss how a different approach to education could foster real-world experiences, project-based learning, relevancy, communication skills, adaptability, teamwork and ultimately bolster the pipeline for the next generation of Colorado’s workers. The culmination of this 32-month process is the new Cherry Creek Innovation Campus.

“This is the first project I have worked on that I truly believe will change education for tomorrow because we created a new building type that is neither education, nor industry, but a combination of both,” CCSD’s Assistant Superintendent of Career and Innovation, Sarah Grobbel said.

Perched atop 40 prominent acres in Dove Valley near the Denver Broncos training facility, the 117,000 square-foot campus features a variety of instructional, lab and social spaces where students can work in teams or individually on assigned tasks as they progress through their chosen career pathway. It is designed to accommodate three types of learners: students who plan to attend college take dual enrollment courses to earn credit toward their college degree; students who prefer to enter the workforce or military immediately learn skills or trades necessary for future success; and students who have yet to decide on a profession can further explore interests and build skill sets that will give them a competitive advantage as they enter either college or the workforce.

“We challenged DLR Group to inspire students the moment they entered the building. Rather than thinking narrowly about participating in one pathway, we wanted students to see the possibility of creating their own trajectory through multiple pathways to meet their career exploration needs,” Grobbel said.

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Career Pathways that Support Colorado’s Workforce

Home to advanced career-based courses, the campus expands the career and technical programs currently available to students at the district’s seven high schools. It also immerses students in an industry-based culture and climate. The district sought input from the Colorado Workforce Development Council to pinpoint seven relevant career pathways that support the local and regional economy:

  • The Advanced Manufacturing pathway trains students on manufacturing trends and working with computer numerical control equipment including mills, lathes, water jets, routers and plasma cutters.
  • Business Services students learn skills to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset in a collaborative, startup-style environment.
  • The Health & Wellness pathway explores various allied health professions at the aide/technician level, building competencies through hands-on labs, authentic clinical settings and industry-grade equipment.
  • Students in the Hospitality & Tourism pathway develop the culinary abilities and skills to manage, market and operate food-service establishments, hotels and resorts.
  • Infrastructure Engineering students operate cranes and/or forklifts, pour concrete and frame buildings to explore careers in building trades.
  • The IT & STEAM pathway prepares students to troubleshoot any kind of personal computing device or computer network, as well as to build their own virtual reality environments.
  • Students participating in the Transportation pathway learn to inspect, service, and repair automobiles and aircraft.

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Designated areas for each pathway were designed with critical input from business partners who established baseline needs and space parameters to deliver authentic learning environments. Many of these partners continue to be involved in the development of courses that reflect the changing industry standards.

“From the first day of planning, we worked alongside industry partners to develop curriculum and instruction for every pathway. Because of this intentional collaboration, students are immersed in experiences based on industry expectations and real-world applications,” Grobbel explained. “Our industry partners are also excited to spend time co-teaching at our building throughout the year.”

In collaboration with the district and DLR Group, industry partners ensured every element (square footages, heights, loading on the floor, access to specific spaces, FFE and equipment needs) was appropriately defined. They also identified areas outside of the academic and lab environments where socialization and demonstration could take place.

Career pathways converge at the heart of campus in the i-Commons, a space that brings together all campus users by encouraging interaction between students, educators and industry partners. The i-Commons is an extension of the corridor space that links programs and collaborative learning spaces together, allowing students and professionals to linger, reflect, learn and cross-pollinate to elevate the learner experience.

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Cherry Creek Innovation Campus provides a one-of-a-kind experience that supports the district’s community of learners, encouraging them to explore, experiment and celebrate what their future holds. With a curriculum rooted in real-world skills and trade certifications, the campus is a new kind of bridge both to college and to viable, successful careers.

This article originally appeared in the School Planning & Management October 2019 issue of Spaces4Learning.

About the Author

Pam Loeffelman, Principal, DLR Group. Pam leads DLR Group’s K-12 practice in the Southwest, elevating education for local school districts in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and Wyoming. For more than 35 years Pam has been actively engaged in a dialogue about the return on investment of educational designs. She believes a combination of economic, social, and pedagogy trends, along with benchmarking can better shape the built environment so as to engage, and inspire students, educators, and local communities.