TAKING THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED

Things were different going "back to school" at Blue Ash Elementary School near Cincinnati last fall. Because of a unique partnership between the Sycamore Community School District and the University of Cincinnati (UC), the new K-4 elementary school re-opened it's doors on the campus of Raymond Walters College, a regional branch of UC. To say that this project took "the road less traveled" is an understatement. In what is called the first known partnership of its kind, the facility's location offers countless opportunities for interaction and cooperative programs between the school district, the university and the Blue Ash community at large.

The new school serves up to 575 children. It features three 1,200-sq.-ft. kindergarten classrooms and five academic classrooms, each for grades one through four. All new academic classrooms are built to standards recommended by the state and each is approximately 900 sq. ft. All classrooms feature four student computer workstations, a teaching computer workstation and plenty of built-in storage for books, supplies, student book bags and coats. Each academic grade level pod has a teachers' workroom to be used for lesson planning and staff meetings. Also included in the new facility are a media center, art and music rooms, gymnasium, cafetorium (multipurpose space), special education rooms, a kitchen, and administrative and service areas.

The building also has an adult education wing that has its own separate entry and features about 3,800 sq. ft. of classroom space, and is outfitted with computer workstations for UC student use.

Cooperative Programs

Programs benefitting both Blue Ash’s and Raymond Walters College’s students are in place. For example, dental hygiene students at Raymond Walters gain valuable experience in working with children by assisting the Blue Ash teaching staff as they teach dental hygiene learning units. Other collaborative efforts include an outdoor science learning lab, located on the Blue Ash Elementary site, as well as a science room inside the building. But this is only the tip of the iceberg, according to Dr. Adrienne James, Blue Ash Elementary principal, of what is a truly enriching partnership for both Raymond Walters College and the school.

School History

Dr. James, who is entering her 19th year with Sycamore, says her teaching staff was excited about the new facility, which represented a return of the Blue Ash Elementary School to the City of Blue Ash. After leaving the site of the original 19th century schoolhouse in 1985, the school occupied a facility in Sycamore Township — about two miles from Blue Ash city limits. In spite of this move to newer, larger quarters, the number of students continued to grow. Since the existing facility was built as an "open plan" school (as many schools of this vintage were), there were significant operational problems with acoustics. For example, students were distracted by sounds from the classroom next door. To partially address this problem, traditional partition walls were built to block sound, but the new walls affected the method of air distribution, causing thermal inconsistency and discomfort. When it was too warm on one side of the building, it was too cool on the other and vice-versa. The new walls also blocked the passage of natural light into the interior classrooms of the facility. In short, the building needed a massive renovation to bring it up to the high standards of other Sycamore facilities. As renovation costs became clear, the alternative of spending money to build a new facility became more attractive. Two big questions loomed unanswered. Where would the facility be built, and where would the money come from to buy the necessary acreage?

UC Participation

Enter UC’s Raymond Walters College. Situated on a 135-acre site in suburban Blue Ash and serving more than 3,500 students, administrators wanted UC to become a more community-based institution and recognized that partnering with Sycamore would result in a great deal of community exposure and interaction. Representatives of the university and the school district soon began to explore how they could each benefit from such a partnership, and enthusiasm quickly swelled. UC agreed to lease the necessary acreage to Sycamore for 50 years at $10 a year. Sycamore agreed to build an adult education wing to be used by Raymond Walters College during their peak hours — evenings and weekends. Sycamore would use the wing during elementary school hours for meetings, district seminars and a variety of other activities. It was a perfect fit. All that remained was to work out the details.

Team Effort

Led by Karen Mantia, Sycamore’s superintendent of schools, and Barbara Bardes, Ph.D., dean of Raymond Walters College, all parties enthusiastically came to the table to plan the best result possible. University Architect Ron Kull and Director of Facilities Gene Kramer collaborated with architects Cole + Russell and Fanning/Howey Associates, Inc., to arrive at a site layout that would integrate the new building into the existing campus, while keeping university traffic separate from elementary school traffic.

An important consideration from the outset was that the new building needed to be distinct and separate from the other buildings on campus, yet be very compatible to them in appearance. It was also important to locate the adult education wing in an area of the new building that would be isolated from the children.“Critical to the success of any learning environment for children is its ability to provide safety and security,” says Dick Camp, Sycamore’s business manager. Lending their experience to the issue of site security were City of Blue Ash Safety Director Bruce Henry and representatives of the Blue Ash Fire and Police Departments.

The teaching staff of Blue Ash Elementary carefully reviewed the plans, and many of their suggestions and requests were built in to the new facility.

Construction

Drawings were completed in January 2001, and construction began soon thereafter. Turner Construction Co., the district’s construction manager, in collaboration with the architects kept construction of the project on schedule and within budget. The new facility was turned over to Sycamore in July 2002, leaving ample time for moving in and setting up classroom furniture.

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