Lancaster Elementary School

Northern Wells Community Schools

Bluffton, IN

New Construction

Project Description:

When the residents of Bluffton visit their new elementary school, they remark on two major elements of the architectural design:  the “neighborhoods” that are comprised of classrooms and support space; and the central courtyard.

Schools within schools...this plan allows for maximum flexibility in arranging grade levels into “pods” or a complete range of grade levels within a single pod.  Each pod can be secured from the rest of the school for security or emergency conditions.  The neighborhoods are an attempt to make a large elementary school (700+ students) feel like a much smaller institution.  Within each neighborhood, two full grades of students are arranged around the exterior, while the interior contains shared amenities such as staff prep areas, multi-purpose rooms, computer labs and restrooms.

The courtyard of this school is probably the most important planning concept.  A repetitive theme among staff, students and the community was the shared desire for natural light.  The courtyard allows for this.  But more, because it was an integral planning element and not an afterthought, careful research was conducted to allow for a space that would truly be used.  At 180,000 square feet, the courtyard is large – large enough to allow breezes to cool the space throughout – large enough for a central fountain – large enough for multiple teaching stations – and large enough for a huge map of Indiana in the pavement on which students can chalk the state’s rivers, counties, and major cities.

One of the key elements of this school is its energy efficiency.  This school was also the first school in northeastern Indiana to fully utilize a geo-thermal heat pump system for energy conservation.  A geothermal system with over 58,000 feet of piping provides water to heat pumps throughout the building.  High-efficiency glazing and an extremely high building envelope R-value, keep energy loss to a minimum.  While the building has not yet been LEED certified, the design and the materials would qualify the facility for a bronze level certification.

An innovative idea for the planning of the school which came from the staff was the integration of the “special needs” students into the school as a whole.  The school did not want any of the students to feel as if they were being segregated into special areas of the building; so the special needs classes are broken up by age groups, and are located with all the other students; thereby promoting diversity among students and teachers.

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