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The Crook County School District Facilities Committee has begun researching other schools that have the same basic design the district is considering
A commons area, which is part of a learning community at Ponderosa Elementary. The “pod” consists of four grade-level classrooms arranged around a commons area. To the left is a smaller learning space for reading groups, with a classroom door on one side.
February 07, 2013
Members of the facilities committee of Crook County School District came back excited and exhilarated after a tour of two Bend-La Pine elementary schools earlier this week.
The committee was previously selected to move forward with the study and assessment process for a new elementary school, and the CCSD school board has voted to put a school bond measure on the May ballot for a new elementary school to replace Crooked River and Ochoco Elementary and make repairs and upgrades to other school district facilities.
The facilities committee has been looking at several Central Oregon Schools with a variety of building footprints that include the design and educational model that the district is looking at, which is referred to as “learning communities.” This design consists of grade-level classrooms arranged together, and connected to a common area.
Deen Hylton, Maintenance Manager for CCSD and also a member of the committee, said that the district is hoping to learn from other schools that have been in place for a few years, and are also of the same overall design. He went on the Bend tour of schools, as did school board member Doug Smith, Superintendent Duane Yecha, and two representatives from the firm, BLRB Architects, whom conducted the facilities condition assessment for Crook County School District.
“That is what we are trying to pick up,” noted Hylton. “We’re trying to take the best improvements that they have made or the best designs and incorporate that into the new school.”
“Educational delivery models vary from district to district and, of course, change over time, but what is important is to design a school to meet the needs of the district on how it wants to educate their children,” added Senior Associate and Branch Director of BLRB Architects of Bend. “That is always the challenge.”
The schools in Bend that were toured were Ensworth Elementary and Ponderosa Elementary. Both schools are in the Northeast quadrant of town. Ensworth has a capacity of 300 students, and a free and reduced lunch percentage of 84 percent. Ponderosa Elementary has a capacity of 600 students. Later in the week, another group of committee members toured Tom McCall Elementary and Sage Elementary in Redmond.
“Both schools were beautiful, and everything was very aesthetically-pleasing,” said Hylton of the Bend Schools.
At Ensworth Elementary, he didn’t like the fact that the gym/cafeteria was separate from the main building. There was a long breezeway that connected the two, and students walked back and forth at least twice each day.
“It’s cold, and if you have blowing wind or rain, it’s going to get under that awning,” he added.
Hylton also commented that he thought the security design for the schools they visited in Bend could be improved. He added that the new school for CCSD needs to have a good line of sight from the front entrance.
Throughout the tour, the staff at each school was asked what they liked about their school design, and what they would do different if they could build the school over again.
At Ensworth Elementary, the office manager had worked there for six years. She commented that she liked the natural lighting and spaciousness of the office, as well as the proximity of the health room — which was right off of the main office area. However, when asked about the line of sight for the main entrance, she verified that the office has no way to see the front entrance, unless they put their head out the check-in window and look.
The building is non-air-conditioned with two levels, and was built in 2004. Like the other schools toured, Ensworth has a “pod” design, with a common area for each grade level. Attached to each pod are three classrooms and an office for instructors. There were four pods altogether.
The library has a large, open design that overlooks the two stories of the building, complete with massive open beams. A balcony looks over the library from the hallway that connects the two pods. The librarian said she “loves the openness,” but the noise that comes from the balcony when students are walking between classes and activities is very distracting.
“I was just amazed at how compact the schools seemed to be compared to Ochoco and Crooked River, yet they educate more students,” said Smith about the tours. “I was shocked at how well that was, and how well the lighting and the warmth of the interiors were compared to those old schools.”
He also pointed out that the last elementary school built in Crook County was in 1946.
Smith noted how each school incorporated the needs of the school into the design. He added that Bend La Pine School District has built six variations of these designs, and Crook County has the opportunity to learn from the evolution of these schools.
He especially liked the community learning design, with the classrooms all feeding into a common area.
“I just felt like the opportunity for some individualism within our educational process — that school design just lent itself to that.”
Yecha commented that he believes that it is best when these kinds of learning communities are broken up by grade level, or “At its best when it’s all one grade level or perhaps one reading level.
“We are reviewing a design concept that garners the savings and efficiencies of a larger capacity building while students realize the benefits of being served in smaller learning communities that share services.”
He went on to say that this design helps create the small-school feeling that the CCSD is trying to accomplish with a larger building. At Ponderosa Elementary, Vice Principal Kimberly Bonner reinforced this concept, when she said that they have migrated from multi-grade level pods to grade-level pods.
Ponderosa has a very open concept architecturally, but is one level. Bonner said they would have created a larger computer lab, although they have a separate Macintosh lab off of the library. The librarian was very happy with the library space, which is considerably smaller than Ensworth Elementary.
“It’s a perfect setup,” she said.
Ponderosa does have line of sight to their front door, and Principal Steve Austin said that there is always a set of eyes on the entrance. All exterior doors are locked during the day, except for the entrance.
Bonner added that the traffic flow and exit plan is difficult, and they have one entrance and one exit. It is chaos when it is release time, and this is something they would change if they built the school over.
Ponderosa has soft but warm lighting, with a very open design at each common area. A “roof monitor” runs the length of the roofline on each part of the building, providing light, but also ventilation. The back side of the building has a courtyard next to the playground, which teachers use for their students’ activities when the weather permits. It is also used as an eating area at lunch time when the temperature is warm.
Ponderosa Elementary and Ensworth Elementary both have a gymnasium that serves as both a cafeteria and a physical education area. Both have a stage that is part of the overall design of the area. Ensworth has a rubberized floor, and the kitchen comes directly off of the common area, like the design at Crook County High School. Ponderosa is very similar, but appears to have a larger gym, which is not separated by another building.
Bonner said that they would have liked to have a separate eating area and gym, because they have to get all 573 students through the lunch line and have the area ready for PE in an hour’s time.
Smith emphasized that they would be giving up two gyms that are used heavily by the schools and community, and the gym design for the potential new school is very important.
At the end of the tour, he commented that he wants to make sure that any elementary school they build can flex enough in the future to prevent having to add modular buildings down the road.
“The one question that I want to make sure is resolved in my mind, is by building a 700-student elementary school, realizing it will not always have 700 students in it, that we are not making a mistake,” said Smith of the purposed building design.
The Crook County School District will host a public hearing on Feb. 21 on possible location sites for the potential new elementary school being proposed in the bond measure in May, at 6:30 p.m. The meeting will be held at the District office, 471 N.E. Ochoco Plaza Dr., Prineville. The meeting will be followed by a school board work session at 7:30, and is open to the public.