At their meeting Tuesday, April 13, about 20 members of the Grand Forks K-8 Campus Predesign Committee got a chance to design a new school – on paper anyway.
The committee, split into groups of about four or five, tackled the task of designing a school that could accommodate up to 1,100 children, in grades K-8, on the site where Valley Middle School stands.
The Grand Forks School Board is proposing to consolidate West, Wilder and Winship elementary schools and Valley Middle School into the new building, a project estimated to cost $70.5 million. It's part of the $86 million bond referendum election June 22.
After seeing a Powerpoint presentation with examples of newly designed spaces in other schools, the predesign committee members split into groups and worked with circles of paper, each labeled with spaces – such as classroom, gym, lunchroom and kitchen, media center, administrative offices, the nurse’s office and restrooms – that are commonly found in schools.
Their task was to figure out “adjacencies” in the school, said Sara Guyette, director of development architecture with SitelogIQ, who led the session.
As group members discussed how the building might function – each bringing their own professional perspective and experiences to the exercise – they positioned and repositioned the circles on a large piece of white paper.
“We definitely need a separate loading area, away from other entrances,” for truck delivery, said Emily Karel, director of the district’s child nutrition program, which is headquartered at Valley.
During this, the committee’s second weekly meeting, members considered a variety of questions, including how to divide the space between elementary and middle school, what spaces may be shared, and where to locate student pick-up and drop-off points.
The district’s central kitchen facility will be relocated, possibly to Grand Forks Public Schools headquarters at the Mark Sanford Education Center, which will allow more space to be solely dedicated to the school.
Todd Selk, principal of Valley Middle School, estimates that the “building takes up about two-fifths of the space we’re talking about,” he said. “There’s lots of green space available,” especially if the district is able to incorporate adjacent Park District land.
The proposed structure could provide about 170,000 square feet for the K-8 school, Guyette said.
In the on-paper scenario Selk crafted with Superintendent Terry Brenner and Ali Parkinson, principal of Discovery Elementary, the multi-level school would feature an interior courtyard, which would provide safe outside space for students and staff, as well as natural light for the rooms that face it.
Selk envisioned a plan whereby his two sixth-grade teams would be clustered together on the main floor and the two teams for each of the seventh and eighth grades would be together on another floor or floors.
The middle school gym would be located near the athletic field, which would be flipped from the west to the east side of the school, he said.
Fueled by their own experiences, the committee members – many of whom are teachers, school administrators or parents of students – took inspiration from the school features they saw in the Powerpoint presentation, a series of creative designs that support modern, up-to-date learning environments.
They saw examples of “writing walls, where kids can be creative and work together,” Guyette said, as well as multi-purpose spaces, such as gathering spaces for student readings or band concerts and outdoor learning areas.
“Hands-on project spaces don’t have to be in classrooms,” said Guyette, encouraging committee members to prioritize things like exposure to natural light and the use of flexible furnishings and moveable walls and bookcases.
One of the values guiding discussion is an emphasis on designing a building that will be aesthetically-pleasing and a point of pride in the neighborhood.
Another issue that was discussed, and will be explored in greater depth at a future meeting, is transportation and the district’s plan to bus northside students to the new school.