School design to help kids interact

Friday, July 27, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:52 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Columbia- Columbia Public Schools’ newest elementary school will likely have classrooms clustered in pods off the center of the building. The concept is meant to foster more collaboration and interaction between students and teachers of the same grade level.

“I love the idea of pods,” said Eric Wilson, a parent and member of the elementary construction steering committee. “As I think about my children, they learn in a more interactive environment, and that’s just wonderful.”

Wilson was among those who visited two Kansas City-area elementary schools last Friday. One of those schools uses the pod concept.

The district’s 15-member committee met Thursday after the trip to Kansas City. Based on those visits, they discussed design ideas for the next elementary school, which will likely be on 20 acres near Brown Station and Waco roads. The schools visited were designed by the DLR Group, a national architecture firm with offices in Kansas City. The firm was hired to design Columbia’s next public elementary and high schools.

Among the committee’s design ideas were:

• The incorporation of “Discovery Areas” in the center of each five-classroom pod. These areas could be used for project-based activities.

• A slanted roof that would blend in with the surrounding neighborhoods.

• Separate driveways for buses and cars, with each drop-off point leading into the same lobby area.

• The gymnasium, cafeteria and media center should be large enough that the community can use the areas as well.

• An abundance of natural light and bright colors.

“I think (bright color) just helps stimulate learning, and it’ll bring a lot of life to the environment, making learning more enjoyable for children,” Elaine Hassemer, principal of Paxton Keeley Elementary School, said after the meeting.

Jack Jensen, assistant superintendent of elementary education, said although the district has historically modeled new schools off the school last built — in this case, Paxton Keeley — the new school will be an original design.

“We will be looking at the good characteristics of Paxton Keeley and incorporate those into the new school,” Jensen said. “But it will be a completely new template for the new school.”

Andy Anderson, the principal architect, said the new school’s site has elevation changes, but the school may not need two levels. “It’s a challenge, but we can work around it and it’ll make for some interesting architecture,” Anderson said.

DLR will show sketches at the group’s next meeting at 3 p.m. Aug. 10 at Paxton Keeley, 201 Park DeVille Drive.

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