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Group Gathers To Discuss Waddell Renovation

Imagine having an indoor treehouse in an elementary school media center -- a cozy hideaway with beanbag chairs where students could relax and read.

Or imagine an indoor slide, adjacent to a staircase, giving kids a chance to have a little fun as they go from upstairs to downstairs.

Architects from Tai Soo Kim Partners met on Wednesday with representatives of Waddell Elementary School -- and lots of others from around the district -- to discuss plans for the upcoming renovation of the school.

“This is a chance to step back and get a fresh perspective,” said Ryszard Szczypek, who, along with colleagues Christine O’Hare and Randall Luther, led a wide-ranging discussion designed to understand the needs and possibilities that will serve Waddell for the next generation and beyond.

Incidentally, some schools really do have an indoor treehouse -- and that revelation was included in part to remind everyone at Wednesday’s meeting to brainstorm ambitiously. It’s way too soon to know what Waddell will look like after it’s renovated, but the architects say they need thorough  input before they can start sketching design concepts.

Wednesday’s meeting included a discussion about which “modalities of learning” will be emphasized. The architects distributed a list of 20 such modalities  -- “independent study,” “team collaboration,” “performance learning,” “interdisciplinary study” and so on.

There was discussion about maximizing the use of common areas -- for example, a cafeteria can have a stage, or perhaps technology that supports instruction.  

School design is always evolving and some especially creative work is being done in places like Joplin, Missouri -- a community that was destroyed by a tornado in 2011 and has since been rebuilding a number of schools. Three new schools opened in 2014 -- including Irving Elementary, which was the subject of this video that reviewed their planning process.

Work at Waddell is at the front end of a series of building projects that will eventually affect all elementary schools in the district, as fifth-graders will be moving to the Cheney Building adjacent to Bennet Academy.

Here’s an oversimplified overview of the progression:

  • This summer, work is expected to begin on the Cheney Building -- which will eventually be the home for all fifth-graders in the district. Renovation of the Cheney building is scheduled to take 14 months, ending in August 2017.

  • The first inhabitants of the Cheney Building will be Waddell students. Waddell will be shut down for renovations in August 2017, with all of its students being bused to Cheney for the 2017-18 school year, and again for part of the 2018-19 school year.

  • After Waddell is renovated and its pre-K to fourth-graders return, fifth-graders from throughout town will be housed in the Cheney Building.

  • As Waddell is coming back online, renovations will continue in this order -- Verplanck, then Bowers, then Keeney, then Buckley, then Martin. Robertson is to serve as the swing space home for those schools during those years, with Robertson closing in 2024 (a year earlier than originally planned). Washington, meanwhile, is scheduled to close in 2020, with its students redistricted -- just as those from Robertson will have been.

You can see the whole plan here but district officials say they expect to move things more quickly than originally outlined and are aiming to end the project one year early.

“It’s a complex plan but one that has been developed with a great deal of planning and with input from stakeholders throughout our town,” Superintendent Matt Geary said, citing cost, transportation, and racial balance as just three of the many factors that were considered as the plan was developed. “As we get further along and decisions are made about the design of the buildings, we have to always ask what will be best for our students as we seek to provide them with the highest quality 21st century education. I’m confident we are going to make that happen.”

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