Not all schools work for all students. That’s the challenge that Minneapolis-based Kraus-Anderson Construction Company and St. Paul, Minn.-based architecture firm BWBR Architects face in designing and building a new school designed to serve kindergarteners through eighth-graders with special education needs.
The new 70,000-square-foot Karner Blue education center, to be built in Blaine, Minn., will serve students who have either struggled in a traditional school setting or those whom officials with Northeast Metro 916 Intermediate School District have identified as likely to falter in a typical school.
Because of this, BWBR Architects could not design a typical school.
“In some cases, the students who will attend this building see school as a place where they have failed,” said Steve Erickson, BWBR’s project manager for Karner Blue. “We didn’t want these students coming into another building that looked like an institution, that looked like a school built in the ’50s, ’60s or ’70s. That would be counterproductive. We wanted to create a warmer, friendlier environment.”
This meant embracing a pod concept. Karner Blue will serve four distinct sets of students. Some of the students at the school are autistic. Others are dealing with emotional behavior disorders. One pod will house students with austism. Two pods will house elementary-age students with emotional behavior disorders. The final pod will be the home base for middle-school-age children with emotional behavior disorders.
The architects also had to create a school that didn’t rely on the traditional central-hallway schemes of typical schools.
“With most schools, you have long corridors with classrooms on either side. That’s a way to get students where they need to be as quickly as possible,” Erickson said. “But in this school, they didn’t want any long corridors. They didn’t want there to be any chaos in the hallways.”
School officials also didn’t want any clear sightlines from inside the building’s classrooms to its hallways. Such views can distract students, with some becoming fixated on what’s happening in the corridors instead of what is taking place in their classrooms.
To make the school look friendlier, BWBR incoroprated skylights and large windows throughout, something that would bring natural light into the building. Because the new school will sit adjacent to a 50-acre protected wetland — the school’s name comes from a type of butterfly — this is especially appropriate.
Again, though, planners had to take steps to minimize possible distractions. The students at Karner Blue can become easily distracted by window views. To help alleviate this, while still providing large swaths of natural light, BWBR designed classroom windows with sills that are elevated to five-and-a-half feet off the ground.
Kraus-Anderson and BWBR officials also met with the Minnesota State Fire Marshal’s office so that they could replace the traditional loud horns and flashing strobe lights that come with fire alarms with less jarring speakers and digital message boards.
Karner Blue is not the first project on which Kraus-Anderson and BWBR have worked together. The companies have also worked on the Regions Hospital Inpatient Mental Health Center in St. Paul, Minn., and the Early Childhood Family Center in Stillwater, Minn.
Construction on the new school will begin in June of this year. It is scheduled to wrap up in July of 2014.
“This exceptional building for District 916 is a national model and an example of a new trend in education construction,” said John Huenink, Kraus-Anderson vice president and director of the company’s education group. “We are proud to partner with BWBR on behalf of Northeast Metro 916 to meet the growing demand to support special needs children in our community.”
– Dan Rafter