Innovation and collaboration were celebrated Oct. 8 at Johnson County Regional Center in Iowa City.
Johnson County Regional Center, the newest of four Kirkwood Regional Centers designed by OPN Architects, is the result of an innovative partnership between Kirkwood Community College, the University of Iowa and Grant Wood Area Education Agency. This and all of Kirkwood’s regional centers offer highly technical state-of-the-art labs and career academies providing high school students with access to hands-on technical programs, arts, and science classes. Students from surrounding school districts in the Iowa City area have the opportunity to explore career options while earning concurrent high school and college credit at no cost.
The Johnson County Regional Center at the University of Iowa is the first of its kind in the nation to combine the strengths of a research university with those of a community college and industry partners. Located at the University of Iowa’s Research Park, the Center’s program is built around STEM education. The unique location offers students access to the high-tech companies and research centers on the University’s campus and the opportunity to do research with the faculty. In addition, the Center will provide the University’s education students and professors with opportunities to test innovative STEM teaching strategies.
The 101,000-square-foot facility was designed by OPN Architects to offer a variety of programs. Unique educational spaces include inquiry-based experiential classrooms; medical training facilities; wet and dry chemistry labs; computer labs; a testing center; industrial modules for advanced manufacturing and engineering technology; welding and metal working; and an innovation lab. Large commons areas and collaborative spaces throughout the building offer room for formal and informal learning opportunities. The building was designed around sustainable principles and features a large photovoltaic array, which reduces the building’s energy consumption by 25 percent.
Johnson County is one of four regional centers. The others are in Linn, Washington and Jones County and feature similar partnerships on the part of area businesses and schools. These centers speak to a broader trend in both K-12 and higher education. Facing dwindling funding, school districts can no longer afford to outfit and maintain facilities to house what was once referred to as vocational technology spaces. Community colleges, on the other hand, see potential in offering these programs both to enhance their own programs but to also build partnerships with businesses that need to train their employees.
These buildings also reflect pedagogical changes in higher education. Less learning is taking place in traditional classrooms. Instead, students are learning through practice and by teaching others. Today learning is collaborative and hands on. OPN’s team of Steve Knierim, Kristin Hurt, Stacey Hanley, Peter Cilek, Kristie Clark and Vicki Hyland envisioned the Johnson County Regional Center to encourage this new approach to learning.
Spaces such as those in this new facility as well as others on campuses throughout the state are flexible and experiential. Students learn to cook in learning kitchens, heal in simulated exam rooms and hone other technical skills in spaces specially outfitted for with the tools they need.
In our decade-long history working with Kirkwood Community College, OPN has seen the school anticipate these shifts and evolve to meet the changing needs of its students. We congratulate them on this most recent accomplishment — the opening of Johnson County Regional Center.