Oswego Community Unit School District 308 challenged DLR Group to design a new early learning center to meet the unique needs of children age three to five. The center is home to three programs: Tuition Pre-School, Preschool for All, and Special Education. DLR Group’s design solution resulted in a pinwheel layout, having four small houses around a central core of shared facilities, including administration, a multi-purpose gymnasium and a community/parent room.
Architect: DLR Group
Location: Oswego, Illinois, USA
Mechanical/Electrical Engineer: KJWW
Structural Engineer: TGRWA Engineering
Civil Engineer: Cowhey Gudmundson Leder, Ltd.
Site, Core and Shell Contractor: L.J. Dodd
Interior Fit-out Contractor: R.L. Sohol
Owner: Oswego Community Schools 308
Project Area: 39,800 sqf
Project Year: 2007
Photographs: James Steinkamp
Each house consists of five classrooms, surrounding an open area called a “living room.” In the student’s perspective, this reduces the scale of their school to just five classrooms and a living room. These intimate, home-like, multi-functional spaces are flexible areas used for group learning and activities, and take the place of traditional hallways for maximum usable educational space which totals more than 80% of the entire building. The living room is the programmatic heart and social nerve center with visual connection to the environment. High ceilings and gable roofs provide a bright, cheery atmosphere for the children.
1) Create a comfortable learning environment for young students
Focusing on children and their daily activities, each classroom has in-floor and ceiling radiant heating for improved comfort of the student. This feature also creates a warm, cozy environment. There are both adult and child scale windows throughout the room: glass only windows for adults, and portal windows raised just off the floor for children. Both sets of windows begin only 16” off the ground so students of all abilities can connect with the outdoors. There are also observation windows between the living room and the classrooms, allowing the light from the gable roofs to protrude into the room. The gable roofs, high ceilings, and tall windows collectively draw light into 100% of all classrooms and 85% of the building.
2) Incorporate design elements to reduce the scale of the building for young learners
Horizontal lines create a child-friendly scale throughout the facility through color, materials and texture. Interior and exterior design elements taper off at a 9’ elevation, making the large scale building appear small to children. Examples of these elements are drywall reglets traveling around inside spaces at 9’, entry canopies at 9’, and brick on the exterior of the building up to 9’ with a different material above. This helps reduce the feeling of high volume spaces.
3) Address acoustics and provide sound control
Sound control is another important factor impacting teaching and learning. The District and designers met the ANSI Standard S12.60 as a response to the unique needs of the Oswego ECC children and their sensitivity to sound. Electrical boxes are staggered and partition walls made of metal studs, acoustical insulation and three layers of gypsum board are full height to keep sound from bleeding over the top of the ceiling.