Children's Museum Collaborates on New Learning Environment with Seneca Valley School District
A partnership between the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and architectural firm CannonDesign will create a new kind of learning environment for students at Evans City Elementary School in the Seneca Valley School District.
“We’ve done a lot of consulting with schools on how they can create makerspaces,” said Anne Fullenkamp, director of design for the Children’s Museum.
In the past, the Children’s Museum has created makerspaces in libraries and consulted with emerging museums throughout the country, but “this will be the first public school that has this kind of partnership,” Fullenkamp said.
Tasked with creating a “futureproof” structure that itself will be a teaching tool for K-6 grade students, CannonDesign was the only one of the 15 architectural firms bidding on the project to suggest the collaboration, said Tracy Vitale, superintendent at Seneca Valley.
Currently in the predesign discussion phase with community stakeholders, administrators and teachers, the engineers and architects from CannonDesign and the museum will either build a new facility on the school’s current Evans City location or on an 100-acre Cranberry/Jackson Township site along Route 19. The school will need to accommodate about 1,400 students.
The design configuration will depend greatly on the site selected, Fullenkamp said. But several design elements have already been identified. The building itself will add to lessons on sustainability and the environment. One plan is to recycle roof water to “bring the outside in.” Another is to have an energy dashboard to track the building’s air quality and energy usage. Experts also are exploring quiet spaces and incorporating health and wellness into the learning environment. And skylights and solar tubes can increase the amount of natural lighting.
Creating an adaptable structure beyond current educational trends is a priority. The current school, built in 1933, has had little modification.
Designers will consider the school’s footprint, structural system and column spacing, said Michael Corb, senior vice president at CannonDesign.
“All of those things together, if done properly, allow the building to accommodate things that are unknown at this time in the future,” he said.
Current planning meetings also address classroom arrangement, placing age-appropriate spaces together, and creating the best places for support services and designing transitional areas that go from one-on-one to small group to whole classroom instruction. Also under consideration are ways in which corridors – used for 50 percent of the school day – can become educational spaces.
“The Children’s Museum is on board to help explore any new spaces that may come out of this particular design process that normally we wouldn’t have thought of,” Corb said.
Realizing the fiduciary responsibility to the community, the museum will lend its expertise to economical practices for outfitting classrooms with the necessary functional and durable equipment, Corb said.
“Because the Children’s Museum lives on grants, they know how to stretch dollars,” he said.
Currently, the district is not at a point to establish the project’s cost, Vitale said.
“For now, we are taking our time,” she said. “One of the big priorities in this district is that the next building not be just another school or institutional square building; we could have built that three years ago and been on to our next project.”