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WE Innovate: New Buildings as Learning Tools

While a great deal of learning takes place in all of our 51 schools, the buildings themselves are rarely the tool for the learning. As the Beaverton School District builds seven new schools over the next five years, the District is seeking to change that, incorporating learning tools in the very design of the buildings. "The whole idea of making the physical design of the new middle school contribute to the learning of our students should be credited to Scott Johnson," says Matt Casteel, Executive Administrator for Middle Schools. Johnson is the project manager for the new middle school in the Timberland community.

"We know that our building designs and physical construction reflects living elements and educational principles. Opportunities later arose to physically expose, highlight and implement physical conditions which will foster thought and learning by our students and community. No doubt, our creative educators will use these elements to develop and explore Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) learning beyond belief," says Johnson.

While the idea had been raised in previous projects, no one had ever taken the steps to make it happen. Casteel and Johnson got to work, bringing together BSD staff and Mahlum Architects.

The first step was to discuss the impact on the project and the budget constraints. "It was a great example of collaboration between multiple departments, our architect firm and the general contractor, Skanska USA," says Casteel.

The school is designed to serve as a shelter in the event of a natural disaster. Twenty-one steel x-braces are built throughout the building. The District purposefully left one of these braces exposed to allow students to learn how the building is engineered to withstand earthquakes and other disasters.

Hundreds of solar panels are installed on the roof of the new middle school, generating 129,616 kWh per year. The school will include a solar kiosk, courtesy of the Bonneville Environmental Foundation. The interactive kiosk uses a secure iPad to display solar data through a graphic panel. Also located on the roof is an innovative weather monitoring station that will allow students to monitor wind speed and direction.

In addition, the school includes low impact development approaches (LIDA) swales and a rain garden to filter storm water, as well as a rainwater measurement station.

Students will also be able to get a look at what's behind the walls. A few ceiling panels are being replaced with plexiglass to expose labeled pipes and wires. Says Casteel, "With each of these connections, we are setting the stage for students to conduct research, make observations, design experiments and communicate information to fellow students and the public."