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Wilkes Elementary School in the small island community of Bainbridge, Washington replaces a 50-year-old school that could no longer meet modern educational standards. Acknowledging the island’s distinctive culture and values, community-oriented principles and sustainable strategies guided the design and maximized the available budget.
The school is carved into the hillside and nestled against the forest. A series of low bar forms extend out from the slope, giving the school a low profile and offering protection for exterior courtyards that fill the spaces between the bars. Each bar is composed of a small learning cluster organized around shared learning spaces. This organization provides direct connection to play areas and learning gardens and allows a variety of scales of interaction between students, educators, and their environment. Light and landscape are also naturally drawn into the interiors, which was a priority for the school district.
To position teachers and students for success, a variety of interior and exterior learning spaces give students the opportunity to discover and apply their own unique skills to any task. Classrooms are clustered with an open learning area and two small group rooms where students can explore science and art or exhibit project work. The clusters intentionally break down the scale of the school to create intimate communities of students with strong relationships to their teachers.
A fully-integrated, high performance design enhances the educational experience. Learning clusters are oriented for optimal north/south solar exposure. Expansive windows fill interior spaces with daylight and provide pastoral views, helping to reduce energy use, boost student productivity and test scores, lower absenteeism, and improve the work environment for staff. Beams and paneling are made from locally-sourced cedar. Sewage and stormwater are processed on-site, while 45 ground-source heat wells provide heating.