As designers of education and learning spaces, at OPN we celebrate back-to-school season like proud parents. Summer is customarily construction season. For school projects, though, summer schedules are particularly critical. There’s no stopping that first day’s first bell.
So it was with no small sigh of relief that we celebrated the start of school with the staff and students at two new OPN-designed elementary schools, which opened doors for the first time this fall.
Iowa City’s new Hoover Elementary replaces the existing Hoover Elementary. This year, it welcomed students from Longfellow, Lincoln, and Mann Elementary Schools while those historic buildings are renovated. In 2019, existing Hoover students will move into their new building.
Modeled after Iowa City Community School District’s other two most recent school’s Alexander and Norman Borlaug, both of which were designed by OPN, the two-story building’s facade carries the school’s signature red. Inside the main entrance, a common area, vibrant with primary hues of green, blue, and yellow, offers a community area for students to gather before, during, and after school. Modular furniture is arranged between red floor-to-ceiling frames that define the space and offer additional seating. An open staircase, painted yellow, draws the eye up and leads to the second-floor media center. Windows behind the staircase look out to the playground and bring abundant light into the space. On the second story, the media center cantilevers over the first floor, creating drama at the entry.
The gym, multipurpose room/cafeteria, art and music rooms, and administrative offices also fill this central core. The academic wings radiate to the east and west. The single-story Pre-K and Kindergarten wing has its own entry, with a cantilevered roof and column replicated from the main entrance. There also is a playground specific to this wing.
On the opposite end of the building, a two-story wing houses classrooms for the first through sixth grade. The brick classroom wings tie the structure together and allow the center portion of the building to be the connector and a strong architectural focal point. Sunscreens across large windows in the art and music rooms allow light in without glare.
In Marion, Longfellow Elementary replaces the former Emerson Elementary. The new school will serve preschool through second grade – three sections each – for the growing district. The simple design emulates the exterior of the other district schools. All brick, a pattern of red and gold stripes recall the high school’s façade as well as the district’s school colors. Red doors at the front entry similarly reflect district pride while adding a punch of color.
The t-shaped building faces south, with the gym located to the west of entry, which is seperates the main office from the music and art rooms. Two wings of classrooms form the T’s cross. The media center is located at the heart of the academic wing. Serving dual purposes, the gym is more aptly called a cafetorium, with a full serving kitchen. The gym is supplemented by a fitness center with treadmills, bikes and other fitness equipment for student use.
At both Hoover and Longfellow, the preschool and kindergarten rooms are also a storm shelter large enough to accommodate the school’s entire population. Built to current International Building Code standards, the walls are constructed with 12-inch thick CMU with fully grouted cores and a 14-inch thick concrete slab roof. All windows are rated to sustain 250 mph winds.