When we send our kids to school, we expect them to be healthy and safe and we expect them to learn. That’s the parent perspective. What if you’re a Member of a School Board or the President of a private school; how do you meet those expectations? What do you need to know about how schools should be designed to enhance learning? Portland, Oregon based Propel Studio has a history of bringing health and sustainability to the forefront of their projects. It seems appropriate then, that Nick Mira, a Partner at Propel Studio Architecture, should share some advice based on their experience on the Primrose School of Hillsboro project.
Besides diet and nutrition, Nick lists three key elements as having the biggest impact on the learning environment:
- Temperature and Comfort
- Quality of Light
- Good Acoustics
It’s easy to say that students need to be comfortable, but Nick digs deeper when he talks about balance of temperature, say on one side of a classroom near the windows versus the side of the room away from the windows. All the areas in your school need to be comfortable.
Nick is also a proponent of a balanced mix of light sources, both natural and artificial so that light levels in brightly lit classrooms are even and it’s easy for students to see their books, smart boards, even computers.
Finally, when someone is speaking “once and done” is an important concept for Nick. He designs to reduce echo and reverberation so that students can hear clearly and understand … the first time.
The team at Propel Studio is well aware that educators may not have a blank slate to work from. The Primrose School of Hillsboro is part of a private academy franchise, so it was a project that came with a standard plan to work from.
As they worked through the project, Nick and the team were able to point out areas that could be improved on and places where material selections could both save money and improve the health of the Primrose students. While adjusting the floor plan of the building to fit a tight site, they also concentrated indoor air quality, material durability and environmental impact.
Relying on their experience, the Propel team was able to suggest changes to cabinetry and flooring materials and introduce a combination of forced air and radiant heating and cooling for an active ventilation system.
Nick Mira’s best advice for educators interested in improving the learning environments of their students is to get to know other educators that have experienced renovations or construction of new schools. Learn from the things that went well and not so well. Then, look for architects and contractors that have experience and a reputation for designing and building healthy learning environments.