Creating an Educational Community   April 24-26, 2019
Creating an Educational Community
Omaha Magnolia Hotel
Omaha, Nebraska

Wednesday, April 24, 2019 | 3:30 – 5:00 pm

Oakdale Elementary

9801 W Center Road, Omaha, NE 68124

Engaging Students in the Design Process
Engaging students in the building design process ignites learning that can shape their future. When school districts have the opportunity to build or renovate, there are several possibilities to engage students and let them directly impact or experience the design of one of the most important buildings in their community.

The Performing Arts Addition at Westside High School in Omaha, Neb., is a perfect case study. Faced with the constraints of a very tight site and functional relationships, the design team had to resolve the issue of having a mechanical room adjacent to the main entrance. DLR Group presented this challenge to the owner and stakeholders as an opportunity for student involvement. The firm proposed the idea that students could design and sculpt a brick mural on the wall that covers the mechanical equipment to integrate visual arts in the performing arts addition.

The process started with conversations between DLR Group’s design team and interested current and former students. The performing arts addition was discussed in detail amongst the team and created a vision for the brick mural. The art department held a design competition and shortlisted the designs to two. The final design was chosen by District administration.

Next, the art department employed an essay and interview process to select a team of brick carvers. These students and instructors spent their open periods and time after school stacking, carving, and disassembling the wet bricks over a course of several weeks. This exercise was the foundation for a semester full of lessons about brick making and brick sculpting for all art students, not just the team of brick carvers.

The brick mural won a Brick in Architecture Silver Award from the Brick Industry Association and gained media attention for the District. Sure, including students in the process takes trust and dedication between the District, teachers, students and designers, but the value can last a lifetime and may inspire a future architect or engineer.

Another example of the benefits and success of engaging students in the design process is the Oakdale Elementary School desk project. The original Oakdale Elementary School, built in 1917, upgraded to a new facility, which opened in January 2018. Throughout the planning process, administrators, alumni, and neighbors of the school made it a priority to preserve the legacy of the previous building. Douglas fir timber, which previously adorned the walls of the music room, was salvaged for potential use in the new facility.

DLR Group’s Vanessa Schutte brainstormed with the school district to determine an adequate solution for the recycled materials. The new Oakdale Elementary School would be home to a multipurpose desk made from the salvaged timber. Firm members organized a competition with the high school architecture, art, and engineering students to design the desk. Seven groups of students submitted proposals for best design, which was reviewed by a committee of Oakdale educators, local architects, and administrators. The committee’s winning design was then presented to the principal and Board of Education to make appropriate adjustments.

An enthusiastic group of students with desk drawings in hand journeyed to the Big Red Sawmill in Palmira, NE, to learn about lumber milling and how to utilize the salvaged timber for the new desk. Students were shown how to use a computerized sawmill to determine how lumber can be made to fit a specific need. After hours spent removing nails, the students programmed the band-saw and cut the timber into its final sizes.

Four high school seniors who submitted entries in the competition expressed interest in constructing the desk. Under the guidance of Schutte and the school district’s STEM facilitator, Lee Kallstrom, the design was finalized, and the creation of the media desk began. The team built and assembled the desk in the construction lab at the high school; finishing it in July 2017. Upon the December 2017 completion of the new Oakdale Elementary School, the former high school seniors, who had become freshmen at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, returned to assist with the final installation.

The desk’s storied background and alluring appearance is admired by all who see it. For students, this unique experience gave them a valuable lesson as they continue on their potential career pathways in architecture, art, and engineering. The opportunity to present this desk to Oakdale Elementary School as a historic, yet modern piece of art restored and created by the very students in the school district will be a priceless gift to all for many years to come as well as a testament to the importance of engaging students in the design process.

Learning Objectives
  1. Learn how design and construction provides unique learning opportunities for students and staff.
  2. Learn how to engage a variety of different types of learners with different skill sets in the design and construction process.
  3. Learn how the relationship between an architect and a school district can go beyond a building.
  4. Learn ways to provide students with the opportunity to impact the design of one of the most important buildings in their community.

Thursday, April 25, 2019 | 1:15 – 2:30 pm


3600 S 215th Street, Elkhorn, NE 68022

The Elkhorn Blue Sage Elementary School design was the first of a new prototype design for the school district. DLR Group worked closely with administration and educators to come up with a design to suit the needs and preferences of students and staff. Throughout brainstorming sessions, they identified the effective aspects of past designs in the district as well as areas for improvement. The collaborative effort produced the one-story, three-wing facility, with each wing housing two grade levels and two unfinished classroom spaces to be completed later, on an as-needed basis. Each wing lightly touches the main section of the building and has the ability to be interchangeable to allow flexibility of the prototype to accommodate differing future sites. The media center and cafeteria/commons areas are placed on the exterior to maximize daylight, views, and presence. Continuing the district’s commitment to environmentally-friendly facilities, the building employs numerous state-of-the-art energy conservation systems, including geo-thermal, skylights, and sunshades.

Thursday, April 25, 2019 | 3:00 – 4:30 pm

Robert B. Daugherty Education Center's Schools at the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium Tour

3701 S 10th St, Omaha, NE 68107

Kids are inherently curious creatures who learn by observing and interacting with their surroundings. They are intrinsically drawn to animals, watching carefully as animals play, relate, and move throughout nature. When a child’s educational experience includes daily interaction with animals, learning is elevated. In Omaha, Nebraska, what started as a partnership between local school districts and the world-renowned Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, blossomed into a genuine learning environment that combines outdoor exploration with hands-on educational opportunities. In simplest terms, it’s a school within a Zoo.

The designers and engineers spent time with Zoo employees walking the Zoo campus, discussing where there were deficiencies, and gaining a deeper insight into their hopes and dreams for the future of the space. Guiding objectives were established, including active distractions, playful learning, and nature immersion, which drove the design for the new Robert B. Daugherty Education Center. To broaden the understanding of the built environment, designers joined Zoo educators and administrators on tours of other innovative buildings. This strengthened the engagement between Zoo staff and designers and enabled the group to think beyond what they already knew. The designers led activities promoting collaboration and shared goals between designers and Zoo representatives. Everyone had the opportunity to ask questions and share their point of view.

As the first of its kind, the Education Center faced various obstacles in the process of its design and construction. Without the example of a similar project, designers had to start from scratch to come up with the best fit for the client and students. Each issue had to be resolved and align with the Zoo’s mission, and the firm worked closely with the client to integrate each into the design.

The goals of the Education Center were identified as a team, carried out as a team, and achieved as a team. It bridges facility and nature; learning and play; students and community. The educational goals of the facility are met with the students’ ability to use the Zoo as a tool in their learning both inside and outside of the classroom. School districts’ expectations were exceeded, which resulted in the Education Center opening the high school programs to include all area school districts. The community not only values the Zoo as a national symbol of conservation, but also as a national symbol of conservation education, where students can engage with the Zoo community as they learn.

Friday, April 26, 2019 | 9:40 – 11:30 am

JP Lord

4444 Marinda St, Omaha, NE 68105

Designing to Meet the Unique Needs of a School District’s Most Fragile Students
How can a school be designed to meet the diverse needs of a population comprised entirely of students with severe cognitive and physical disabilities?

Omaha Public Schools (OPS) recently embarked upon the unique challenge of delivering a replacement facility for the Dr. J.P. Lord School – a program serving approximately 64 students ages 5 through 21 years with multiple disabilities. This session will include a tour and discussion of the completed facility, exploring the methods and strategies the architects, designers and OPS staff developed to meet the extensive range of medical needs of the students within a sensory rich educational environment.

The instructional program at J.P. Lord addresses the cognitive, communication, community, motor, self-help and social needs of students, with each of these tent-pole concepts serving to shape the overall physical environment of the school. Discussion will include how the design evolved with the goal of creating an immersive environment to allow each student to maximize their full learning and developmental potential. The facility also addresses the J.P. Lord Sensory Curriculum, where each student will be able to have experiences throughout the school day where they will employ all five sense – “What we see, what we hear, what we smell, what we taste and what we feel”. This new facility is a physical representation of the OPS vision to create a school which is unique to the nation, a school where all persons – no matter their physical or mental state – are loved and their dignity held high.

Learning Objectives
  1. Explore how K-12 design can simultaneously address both the educational and medical needs of students.
  2. Discover opportunities to create sensory-rich environments to stimulate and energize students with special needs.
  3. Discuss innovative practices and opportunities to foster student interaction throughout the school day.

Pat Carson is a Principal with BCDM Architects with 25 years of experience planning and designing a wide-range of K-12 projects. Laura Mac-Holmes is the Program Director of Omaha Public Schools Dr. J.P. Lord School and has spent more than 40 years serving students with a wide-range of special needs.

Friday, April 26, 2019 | 10:00 – 11:30 am

Omaha North High School Robotics

4410 N 36th St, Omaha, NE 68111

Omaha North High School Robotics is a world competitive program inspiring students to become the problem solving heroes of tomorrow. A remodeled space in the 1924 high school offers students a rich and exciting platform to immerse themselves in the areas of STEM through the fun of building robots.

North High Robotics   North High Robotics

  • highlighting how learning can occur in all parts of a community
  • The conference theme is Creating an Educational Community. The intended audience includes school district superintendents, educators, facility and operations managers, planners, designers and builders whose collective mission is to improve the environments where children learn.

The architectural design team was tasked with crafting a cutting edge robotics lab along with an adjacent lecture classroom. Part of the challenge was renovating two older “70’s era” home economics classrooms into new inspiring space to recruit future students into the school’s engineering technology program. Existing corridor lockers were replaced with large boxed picture windows allowing both views into the classroom as well as opportunities to display VEX awards and other achievements. The existing classrooms were completely gutted, peeling away the old ceiling tile, revealing the original 1924 cast concrete structure. The decision was made to leave the structure exposed, creating an industrial aesthetic which played off the new modern interior finishes and lighting. Lastly, both lab and classroom are separated by a glass collapsible wall, allowing both spaces to flow seamlessly into each other when warranted, or closed for simultaneous teaching opportunities. Controlled use of bold color, as well as environmental graphics, communicates both brand and school identity – enhancing the learning experience within.

Learning Objectives:
  1. Explore how the architects were able to insert a “state of the art” robotics lab within a historic structure.
  2. Learn what programmatic elements are necessary to craft a 21st century classroom.
  3. Discover how to locate a spatial opportunity by highlighting potential existing building features to enhance design objectives.

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