Adaptive Reuse for Education

Thinking Outside The Box: Adaptive Reuse For Education

Education is one of several industries facing drastic changes to meet the demands of consumers. The educational experience is evolving to provide students with next-generation learning opportunities, while, simultaneously, retail and medical industries are undergoing transformational shifts in how they serve their customers. As a result, once bustling shopping centers and medical offices sit vacant, and neighborhoods are littered with shuttered properties that previously served hundreds, or even thousands, of people every day. This scenario is unfolding across the nation, but I believe there is hope.

adaptive reuse 

DLR Group / Christian Phillips Photography

Many school districts are searching for additional space to serve students and educators, and over the last few years, DLR Group has partnered with multiple school districts to convert non-educational properties into innovative environments for students and staff. Although it may be considered non-traditional, the solution is a win-win for local communities. Repurposing empty structures into educational and administrative facilities breathes life back into buildings and surrounding neighborhoods. It also allows school districts to create new environments in a fiscally and environmentally responsible manner.

Converting a Medical Office to an Innovation Center

Yorkville School District 115 in Illinois identified an opportunity to transform an existing single story 4,400 square-foot dental office building into a new Teacher Center for Innovation. The space acts as a district hub and training space for more than 500 educators. DLR Group’s design encourages professional collaboration, expands “touchdown” opportunities for nomadic staff and fosters healthy teacher perspectives. It also supports innovative pedagogical practices such as multi-grade, cross-district collaboration, research and professional learning.

The new facility is home to a professional space intent on supporting teachers and the district’s bold strategic plan goals of creating a community of learners, operational excellence and meeting every learner where they are. It is accessible 24/7 to meet the diverse needs of an evolving workforce and is located near district administrative offices at the town’s arterial crossroads, offering easy access for all educators throughout the district.

adaptive reuse 

DLR Group / Christian Phillips Photography

Because it previously operated as a medical office building, a complete interior demolition and renovation was necessary, as well as a new floor plan, solar tubes to bring in daylight and updated furniture and finishes. The original floor plan consisted of small compartmentalized spaces and a lobby; DLR Group’s design features a layout that focuses on purposeful adjacencies to support formal and informal gatherings for both professional and social activities. A variety of conference, private office and kitchen spaces flank a centralized flexible collaborative space and provide areas for teachers and teaching professionals to utilize based on whatever need is at hand. As pedagogy evolves, strategic placement of several rooms for video conferencing and recording lectures also readies teachers offering increased blended and remote learning.

Adapting a 1960s Medical Facility into a Career Ready Center

Topeka Public Schools in Kansas sought to re-purpose an existing building into the Topeka Center for Advanced Learning and Careers to provide real work experiences for its students. The facility was originally designed as part of the Kansas State Hospital system built in the early 1960s. The nature of its operation as a clinical and research center for mental sciences prohibited the use of windows and, as a result, lacked access to daylight. In 1981 the facility was converted to an education and activity center for the Topeka School District providing additional classrooms, a gymnasium and library. The new addition incorporated one narrow window per classroom with masonry walls that provided minimal thermal comfort — typical of design and construction techniques at the time.

Today, TCALC supports an innovative program in profession-based learning. Serving as design architect, DLR Group partnered with Architect One in Topeka to transform the existing facility into a professional work and learning environment with highly interactive, creative and technology-laden spaces. The center features new classroom, lab, research and collaboration venues that mirror those found in high-end workplace facilities.

The design adds much needed daylight to all spaces. An aluminum-finned shade structure along the south side of the building reflects daylight deep into the space. In addition, all interior walls, minus the gymnasium and storm shelter, were demolished to allow for ample flexibility within the learning environment. The existing gymnasium was transformed into a new social commons which incorporates a learning stair and introduces daylight through new clerestories, while pops of vibrant color create a sense of excitement in the space. Contrasting materials and masses playfully hide and reveal the existing and new masonry and frame new openings for daylight.

adaptive reuse 

DLR Group / Michael Robinson

Transitioning from Big Box Retail to Education Center

DLR Group’s design for the Kearney Early Education Center in Missouri responds to Kearney School District’s increasing need to accommodate exponential growth across the community. Converting an existing grocery store, with a large open floor plan, allowed DLR Group to start this project with a blank canvas and to successfully create dynamic educational environments through adaptive reuse. The volume and openness of the space fostered opportunities for a welcoming discovery zone; long structural spans gave way to freely planning spatial adjacencies; and minimal existing interior construction helped expedite completion of the facility.

The 26,400 square-foot facility serves two functions: an early childhood program and a new district office. It comprises 11 classrooms, from infant care to pre-K, all connected by an expansive discovery zone for hands-on learning and indoor activity. Classroom spaces have ample transparency to allow for passive supervision and access to daylight, which is achieved through new skylights throughout the facility. The organization of classrooms around a central discovery zone removes the need for corridors, reinforcing the notion that every space is a learning space.

The district office section of the facility incorporates seven private offices, a shared working space and multiple collaborative environments ranging from a central café space to varying sized conference rooms. The new board room — a functional space the district was previously lacking — is designed to be divided into three separate spaces with operable partitions that allow for functionality beyond formal board meetings.

There are countless opportunities to create new and innovative environments for learning within existing buildings. Some require simple modifications while others need massive overhauls. An existing facility with good bones can be easily transformed to serve a specific need, and the examples I shared above demonstrate what’s possible when school districts consider adaptive reuse and look outside the education industry to solve their capacity challenges.

adaptive reuse 

DLR Group / Michael Robinson

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of Spaces4Learning.

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