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June 27, 2013

A school designed for K-12 and beyond

  • At the new Olympia Regional Learning Academy, classrooms could have kindergartners one period and high schoolers the next.
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    TCF Architecture

    The Olympia School District announced plans last year for a new Olympia Regional Learning Academy (ORLA).

    The school’s design would suit a variety of ages, needs and learning programs, create an inspiring, inclusive learning environment, and achieve net-zero energy use. The combination of complexities drove the district’s decision to build ORLA using the general contractor/construction manager method, an approach defined by early and active participation of the contractor as a design resource and equal team member.

    Led by TCF Architecture and Berschauer Phillips Construction Co., the design team is helping to ensure that the estimated $19.6 million, 66,000-square-foot academy stays on budget while meeting the district’s goals for functionality, quality and sustainability.

    Olympia Regional Learning Academy

    1412 Boulevard Road S.E., Olympia
    66,000 square feet
    $19.6 million
    Fall of 2014
    Olympia School District
    TCF Architecture
    General contractor:
    Berschauer Phillips Construction Co.
    Structural engineer:
    PCS Structural Solutions
    Mechanical engineer:
    Metrix Engineers
    Civil engineer:
    LPD Engineering
    Electrical engineer:
    Hargis Engineers
    Landscape architect:
    Jeffrey B. Glander & Associates
    Acoustical design:
    SSA Acoustics
    Cost estimating:
    The Robinson Co.
    Low-voltage systems consultant:
    Northwest Information Services
    Sustainability/net zero:
    Interface Engineering
    Food service design:
    Clevenger Associates

    Founded in 2006, ORLA’s students and staff adapted to their cramped and dated 1950s-era school building but became increasingly aware of its physical limitations as its attendance and class offerings grew.

    Fortunately, a district property once occupied by Olympia’s former McKinley Elementary became available. The site, located in a quiet suburban neighborhood, seemed ideal for the new school, envisioned as being enveloped by outdoor art display, heritage gardens and native plant species.

    Different users

    ORLA has four different user groups: Homeschool Connect, ORLA Montessori, iConnect Academy and the Online Development Center.

    Homeschool Connect, or hConnect, is a K-12 program offering over 100 classes to supplement the educations of home-schooled learners. The Montessori program is a popular K-5 elementary school alternative that anticipates continued growth. The iConnect Academy is an online distance learning program with a brick-and-mortar learning center with e-courses for middle school and high school students. And the Online Development Center serves as a professional-development resource for district educators.

    This diverse-yet-compatible grouping of functions consolidates a wealth of educational resources under one roof.

    ORLA differs from traditional schools in its unique array of learning opportunities, tremendous parent involvement and extensive on-site presence of family members during a typical school day.

    Due in part to the variation in class schedules, the majority of student transportation is provided through personal vehicles and public transit. It is not unusual for large families to arrive in passenger vans in the morning and remain on campus throughout the day, according to Principal Joy Walton Kawasaki

    For this reason, busing, and its associated requirement for queuing and loading space, is not included in the program. Conversely, communal areas for work, study and gathering are incorporated into the project to accommodate extended stays and support family connections.

    Flexibility is the key to planning for the school’s many shared functions. Without assigned classrooms, teachers prepare materials off site or in a common resource area, utilizing ample storage dispersed throughout the building.

    A classroom that hosts kindergarteners during one period may serve high schoolers the following. Thus, casework, furniture and equipment will adapt to suit the daily swings in functional variation.

    Wide hallways are designed to accommodate the flow of parents with strollers circulating among students, staff and visitors, while recessed niches will incorporate seating for waiting, impromptu study or rehearsal spaces.

    Areas to display accomplishments and share artistic talents will be available to all students. The centrally located commons/performing arts center will combine transparency, high-quality acoustics and technology to create a multifunctional space symbolizing the heart of the school.

    Where to put what

    One challenge early in design involved working with faculty and staff to prioritize adjacencies and understand their driving factors.

    The largest of the schools, hConnect, sees students frequently entering and leaving the building. The hConnect program includes cooking, craft, art and science labs, which benefit from ground-level access to the delivery drive, central kitchen and gardens offering outdoor learning opportunities.

    The Montessori population, which includes younger students, spends a larger portion of the day on campus and requires a higher level of oversight as students enter and exit their designated portion of the building. Efficient space organization and circulation, as well as security and visibility, support the decision to locate this school to the building’s second floor, and outdoor access for the Montessori is met through rooftop planting gardens.

    Spaces with the highest demand for information technology and sound isolation, such as iConnect’s online learning, the district’s development center and the performing arts control booth, are clustered together opposite the Montessori.

    The district’s plan for eventual expansion is addressed through the layout of a building and site plan. An upper-story roof system contains open areas framed for future classroom infill.

    Image by TCF Architecture [enlarge]
    ORLA’s four-schools-in-one concept requires a flexible layout with lots of shared spaces.

    A net-zero building

    The Olympia School District is striving to raise the bar in sustainable school design. Its initial investment in a 50-year building will help ensure long-term performance while delaying the need for major repair or renovation for decades.

    Set to significantly exceed the state’s WSSP standards, ORLA is also a targeted net-zero energy use building. Its highly efficient exterior envelope and systems are designed to consume 50 percent less energy than current 2009 state energy code requirements, with remaining energy needs supplemented by rooftop photovoltaic panels.

    The system will minimize power draw from the grid, with the installation of panels occurring in phases. Once fully implemented, the array will harvest enough energy to decrease the school’s average annual consumption to zero.

    The PV installation will operate in conjunction with a site ground loop heat exchanger, high-efficiency heat recovery systems, use of LED fixtures and myriad other strategies, both small and large.

    Signage that educates students and visitors about the facility’s sustainable features will help the building serve as a 3-D textbook. The result of these strategies will help make ORLA one of Washington’s most sustainable schools.

    Students, faculty and families will be welcomed by ORLA’s vibrant color palette, graceful landscape and playful architectural forms.

    The intricate site and building adjacencies, net-zero goals, tight budget and desire for supervision led to a compact cruciform layout centered around the multipurpose room, and administrative offices positioned behind an iconic and identifiable main entry.

    To express transparency and daylighting, interior relites separate classrooms from corridors, while skylights and light wells flood brightness deep into the structure. A variety in scales and textures evokes a more homelike interior, sensitive to those with physical, sensory and other special challenges.

    A mix of intimate and open spaces encourages both quiet contemplation and social interaction. Visual and spatial connections tie the building to its outdoor environment. ORLA’s bold but natural colors suit the rain gardens and living walls, inviting nature up to the structure and adding vibrancy to the site.

    Holli Endicott Smith is a licensed architect, certified interior designer and associate with TCF Architecture.

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