December 2017

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DECEMBER 2017 | 43 Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School Expansion PHOTOGRAPHY + RENDERING COURTESY GROUP2 ARCHITECTURE INTERIOR DESIGN LTD. Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School Expansion by LAURA WALKER W hen Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School (STS) in Okotoks, Alberta set out to expand and update its facilities, careful attention was paid to ensure the design supported the school's modern teaching style, offering innovative and functional spaces where children from K-12 can learn in hands-on, interactive ways. "While old teaching models saw an instructor stand at the front of the room and lecture, we now know that this is not how students learn. Children need to be more actively engaged in their learning," says Bill Jones, head of STS. Now nearing completion, the school's expansion serves this modern view of education and challenges traditional notions of what a school looks like, explains Stacy Christensen of Group2 Architecture Interior Design Ltd. (Group2), who notes that the project is the result of years of work between STS and Minneapolis-based FNI. Set to the southwest of the City of Calgary in the foothills of the Rockies, the school's new addition was designed to embrace the surrounding mountain vista, with the form and material palette using high-peaked roofs, Alberta Rundle stone, charcoal metal panels, wood and "snow" white panels to reflect the local environment. "There are some large, glazed areas that allow light into all aspects of the building and add excellent sightlines to our outdoor setting. Previously, most of our windows looked out onto parking lots, not really capitalizing on the beautiful views we have. Now, the expansion totally soaks in the outdoors," says Jones. Justin Fried of Entuitive explains that the new building is fairly unique in terms of the wide range of materials used in its construction. "We used pretty much every type of structural material that is available for building in North America, including concrete, structural steel, masonry and glulam construction." Inside the building, high ceilings offer soaring, open spaces that are designed to exude a mountain feel. "The structural design perfectly marries architecturally exposed concrete and steel with the natural look of glulam wood beams," says Chris Copeman of Chandos Construction. Glass features heavily throughout the interior of the building, keeping spaces open and allowing views into classrooms and learning spaces. "Rather than the factory model of double-loaded corridors, like traditional schools with long hallways and classrooms along those corridors, we have three separate learning communities for different age groups of students," explains Jones of the open, interactive space. Each learning community is self- contained and features different sizes and shapes of learning studios, from small breakout rooms suitable for a small group of students, to larger spaces that can accommodate an entire class. A learning commons is featured at the heart of each learning community, connecting each of the different spaces and offering a learning area of its own. "Each learning community also has its own set of washrooms, and what we call DaVinci studios, or maker spaces, which are areas for kids to do project- based learning, things with their hands, using tables, tools and technology to actually create things," says Jones. The new building offers a fine arts facility, which includes a music room, drama room, band room, practice studios and a large gathering stair that comes down into the middle of the arts commons to seat around 200 people for performances. "A great amount of time was dedicated to working with the staff to select furnishings that would reflect the pedagogy of teaching and learning – so that the classes aren't set up with traditional desks and chairs," says Christensen. Rubber sheet flooring, carpet and ceramic tile all tie into the palette created in the ceiling spaces by coloured baffles suspended from the structure above. The ceiling baffles and perforated gypsum board in high walls of common areas are not just esthetic features, but provide acoustic properties to serve the learning environment. "For lighting, we had to work closely with Group2 to make sure we captured the desired ambience and feel, making sure that our lighting highlighted what they were trying to achieve architecturally, while maintaining appropriate lighting levels," says Khalil Al-Arab of Williams Engineering Canada. "High ceilings always make it challenging to get appropriate lighting levels without producing glare. By suspending large-scale, esthetically pleasing fixtures and using direct/ indirect lighting, we managed to minimize glare and made the spaces seem bigger and brighter. Careful consideration of lighting really helped achieve the overall design intent and complete the space." Classrooms have strong connections to the exterior space, so learning can happen inside and out. "Two dedicated outdoor classrooms support and enhance learning opportunities that encourage students to explore and discover natural materials and phenomena firsthand," says Achim Muller of O2 Planning + Design Inc. The building's courtyard also features an outdoor amphitheatre where the school community can gather to learn and celebrate. While one of the rainiest Julys in Calgary's record delayed the project's excavation last year, timelines were also challenged by other factors during the early days of construction. Unforeseen geotechnical conditions required unsuitable soils below the building to be replaced with structural fill. "Some foundation elements needed to be redesigned on the fly to accommodate," says Copeman, explaining that the project team had to react quickly to keep the project moving forward, while minimizing impacts to schedule and cost. The 65-metre interface between the old school and the new building presented additional challenges to the expansion. "As the site was being excavated, we discovered the geometry of the existing building was quite a bit different than what the original documents and survey had shown," says Christensen. Fried further explains: "Typically, in buildings, the column grid is very controlled and spaced out, but this building grid was very fluid, so finding structural form out of the shape was difficult at first, but we worked that through with Group2." Still, despite the slight challenges and brief delays, the school's new facilities are set to welcome students at the start of January. "It's going to be an amazing building, and I don't think there are many school buildings, if any, like it in the country. We're excited that the design of it was driven by teaching and learning, and reflects the input of educators and stakeholder groups," concludes Jones. A LOCATION R.R.2, Okotoks, Alberta OWNER/DEVELOPER Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School ARCHITECTS Group2 Architecture Interior Design Ltd. / Fielding Nair International GENERAL CONTRACTOR Chandos Construction STRUCTURAL CONSULTANT Entuitive MECHANICAL CONSULTANT TYZ Engineering Ltd. ELECTRICAL CONSULTANT Williams Engineering Canada LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT O2 Planning + Design Inc. TOTAL SIZE 65,000 square feet TOTAL COST $24 million (100 percent donor funded)

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