The educational and physical needs of the Weyauwega-Fremont School District will be the focus of a long-range facility study.
“Tonight I will show you what others are doing. I’m not walking in and telling you have to or should do any of it,” Dean Beeninga said during the April 29 community input session in the middle school library.
Beeninga is a partner and architect in the Minneapolis-based ATS&R, the firm hired by the School Board in March to complete a long-range facility study.
The study will include the district’s buildings, parking areas and athletic complex.
Before Beeninga’s presentation, the firm’s engineers spent Monday and Tuesday, April 28-29, analyzing the facilities.
On Wednesday, April 30, members of the firm met with staff.
Plans call for a draft plan to be completed in early June.
Ninety-eight percent of the work the firm does is in a school setting. Beeninga has worked in educational architecture for 20 years.
W-F administrators, teachers, School Board members and community members attended last week’s input session.
He told them that today, education is about collaboration and project-based learning.
“Classrooms are designed around a central breakout area,” Beeninga said. “The classroom is supported by space.”
In the 1980s, school districts started building larger classrooms, because they needed space within those rooms for computers, he said.
Today’s schools may have a breakout area supported by up to nine classrooms, Beeninga said.
“We still need classrooms, but we need a variety of spaces,” he said.
Schools need some spaces for small groups and other spaces for as many as 150 students, Beeninga said.
“Learning happens everywhere,” including in the outdoors and throughout the community, he said.
ATS&R designs a lot of “coffee shops” in schools that feature different seating arrangements.
Beeninga sees school districts wanting to create a variety of spaces where students may go to plug in, read or talk.
“They’re giving them choice, a variety of settings,” he said.
Some school districts are also providing different types of furniture in classrooms.
“You’re going to see a lot of wheels on the furniture now,” Beeninga said. “Furniture is a huge part of architecture today.”
When furniture is on wheels, it offers flexibility, he said.
“We buy desks that all look the same,” Beeninga said.
Students who are larger feel squished when they sit down, he said.
As a result, some school districts now have different arrangements of furniture that include high tables for students who prefer to stand.
“The point is everybody is different,” he said.
Beeninga said teachers also want to easily make their classrooms become part of a larger, shared space.
“We’re trying to find new things that are easier to move like pivot walls,” he said.
Classrooms are not the only spaces being transformed.
Cafeterias are looking like food courts.
Spaces where the culinary arts, technology education and agriculture are taught are becoming more visible so that all who walk past may see what is taking place there.
Natural light is also important, Beeninga said. “We get it to be proportional to the space. It becomes a human space,” he said.
School districts are also trying to use sustainable products, he said.
In a district like Weyauwega-Fremont, where there are corridors with classrooms on both sides, the district could begin to make changes by introducing different furniture, he said.
Other steps, if the district was interested, would include creating breakout spaces and redefining other areas, Beeninga said.
“The key is there are so many opportunities to give students nice things that don’t cost a lot. The best thing you can do is create a place where they want to be, a place that feels like them,” he said.