Historic School Building Transformed for 21st Century Learning

New Life for Bainbridge Elementary School

The newly renovated Bainbridge Elementary School sets the standard for 21st Century Learning Environments, and will serve as Elizabethtown Area School District’s model for future renovation projects.

As Architect of Record for the Elizabethtown Area School District, Crabtree, Rohrbaugh and Associates (CRA Architects) was given the opportunity to convert the Bainbridge Elementary School into a 21st Century Learning Environment while preserving the historic nature of the original 1934 structure.  From the project’s inception, it was intended that the newly renovated school would set the standard for future building renovations for the district at the elementary level.  Through a collaborative design process, CRA Architects and the the district developed an approach to the physical architecture that would reinforce and enhance the educational program, now and for decades to come.

The design process began with a visioning exercise to identify a set of Guiding Principles that would inform the school district’s approach to education as it relates to the built environment.  Among these Guiding Principles were a commitment to project-based learning and collaboration, and a desire for the school to be a connection point to the community.  These Principles laid the framework for the design team to begin the programming process.  The team decided that small learning communities should be established consisting of a cluster of classrooms with a large collaborative area at its core.  Each classroom should have a direct line of sight to the collaborative area so that teachers can send groups of students to the space to work on projects together or to study independently.  It was also decided that the school should have a Life Cycle Lab, or science lab.  This space, as well as the collaborative spaces, should have direct access to an outdoor learning area.

Concept diagram showing spatial relationships within the learning communities, and the connection to the outdoor classroom.

The existing building presented its own challenges, with original wood-framed construction dating from 1934 and additions from the 1950s, 1960s and 1990s.  One of the classroom wings was built at multiple floor levels connected by ramps.  After exploring several different options, it was ultimately decided that the original historic structure at the front of the building would be maintained to house the main entrance and administration suite.  A new cafeteria and kitchen would be constructed, allowing building receiving to be moved away from the student drop-off areas at the front of the building.  Two new learning communities of classrooms would be constructed at the back of the building.

The Guiding Principles continued to provide a framework for decisions throughout the design process and at all levels of design, as can be seen throughout the building.  Operable glass walls between the classrooms and the collaborative areas allow supervision of both spaces simultaneously.  All casework is on casters to allow space to be reconfigured quickly and easily.  This flexibility facilitates a wide variety of learning experiences, from independent and small group study, to activities that involve an entire grade.  A variety of furniture such as wiggle stools and ball chairs allow students to move in ways that promote concentration, and also are light and easy to rearrange.  Daylight is plentiful in all of the educational spaces, creating a bright and open environment that is conducive to learning.  A shade canopy shelters the outdoor classroom and allows for seamless use of the outdoor space as an extension of the indoor collaborative areas.  As part of the collaborative design process, the third grade students were heavily involved in the design of the playground.  The students were afforded the opportunity to present their design to the School Board, which was then incorporated into the project.

Conceptual building section showing the relationship between the collaborative areas and the outdoor classroom.

“As a school district, we really valued partnering with Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates, making our educational vision come to life with your architectural design.  Our community was thrilled that we preserved the best of the past while providing new, integrated spaces for our students to engage in learning.”

Dr. Michele Balliet, Superintendent

Construction began in June of 2017, and was completed by July of 2018.  Complete evacuation of the school during construction allowed the construction schedule to be expedited and realized a cost savings to the School District.  CRA Architects is proud to have been a partner in this project.  The school building has been a culturally significant part of the small community of Bainbridge for nearly a century, and as a result of the project’s success, will continue to be for many years to come.

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