Facility Planning

MacConnell Award Winner

Booker T. Washington stem academy receives honors.

Editor’s note: The Booker T. Washington STEM Academy, is the 2013 winner of the Council for Educational Facility Planners International’s (CEFPI) James D. MacConnell Award, which was presented at their annual conference in Indianapolis in September. Following is a description of what makes that facility outstanding.

The original Booker T. Washington Elementary School was a K-5, two-strand school in Champaign, Ill., serving approximately 225 students. The school, built in 1951, was the result of a multi-year response against segregation and disentitlement in this predominantly African-American community. Over several years, committee actions, fundraisers and grants generated financial security to support the community center and library adjacent to Booker T. Washington, creating a cherished and celebrated landmark site.

The original elementary school was in disrepair and a technological relic lacking the amenities of a 21st century school. The best community decision was to demolish the existing school and begin again. The Champaign School District selected an interdisciplinary team from Cannon Design and Bailey Edward to create the new Booker T. Washington STEM Academy — a 60,300-square-foot, three-strand magnet school serving 425 students. As one of three new magnet schools in the Champaign School District, Booker T. Washington STEM Academy is an exciting learning environment, in high demand from students and parents, and providing students a STEM-based education to fill the science and technology jobs expected in the future.

Community engagement was a high priority in the design process for Booker T. Washington. Multiple charettes with students, parents, teachers, staff, administrators and community members created an understanding of a progressive 21st-century education delivery method. The process outcome determined spatial adjacencies, created understandings of ecology and sustainability, generated opportunities for community activism and partnerships, and then composed those ideas into a conceptual education diagram. The first workshops addressed teaching styles for Booker T. Washington and the STEM curriculum. Future workshops discussed critical adjacencies and plan development, leading to a spatial diagram where learning spaces flowed around and into each other reducing or eliminating dedicated circulation.

Conceptual workshops concluded with a STEM studio at the heart of the building. The STEM studio connects students with University of Illinois’ professionals, where they can discover concepts and create projects. Booker T. Washington’s art studio maintains a direct visual connection to the STEM studio, promoting a continual flow of inspiration and creativity between the disciplines. Resource and community gathering spaces flank the STEM studio completing the central spine in a spatial arrangement with the most active spaces in the east; the fitness center and contemplative space in the west; and a resource center in the middle.

The central spine is flanked by learning studios, each clustered by grade level and connected with a common collaboration space and a direct connection to an outdoor garden classroom. Each academy clusters three learning studios that open to a communal gathering and project workspace for collaboration, as well as for team teaching and STEM demonstrations by outside scientists and engineers. These planning concepts strengthened the existing school communities and created the desired STEM-centric, project-based and flexible learning environment.

The material choices and operating energy systems intentionally reinforce the STEM curriculum and encourage student creativity. STEM concepts are expressed throughout the building with mathematical theorems and inspiration quotes from notable scientists which dot the interior walls. Natural daylight, geothermal energy and photovoltaic panels demonstrate a sustainable commitment, while educating students in the options and benefits of sustainable choices. Outdoor learning areas, native vegetation, vegetable gardens and a communal rain barrel foster environmental stewardship and healthy lifestyle choices among students and integrate with the school’s science curriculum.

Responding to the community narrative, titled The Great Campus Vision, Booker T. Washington’s design educates the whole child, with community involvement vital to its success:

  • space is allocated for doctors and dentists to administer student exams;
  • special education, literacy and reading-recovery spaces provide extra attention for students in need;
  • moderating summer temperatures allow extra learning opportunities within the school due to an energy-efficient geothermal mechanical cooling system; and
  • community groups engage in school activities, providing student mentors outside the classroom.

The Booker T. Washington STEM Academy, along with the adjacent Douglas Park, community center and library, demonstrates the renewed energy and commitment of the community and school district to its future through education.

This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Authors

Stuart Brodsky leads PK-12 design out of the CannonDesign Chicago office. He is passionate about developing sustainable learning environments that foster student engagement and growth


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