Found Opportunities: Discovering a Sustainable Vision through Collaboration for the Learning Environment

R. Jeffrey Straub, AIA, Principal with CRA Architects and The School District of Philadelphia recently discussed the collaborative design process for their most recent elementary school in construction at the Association for Learning Environments (A4LE) Northeast United States Conference in Boston Massachusetts with educators and educational facility planners from across the United States.

Learning Stair- Solomon Solis-Cohen Elementary School

Working with key stakeholders for the redevelopment of an urban school that has served it’s community for 70 years, how do you reimagine an elementary education program to meet 21st Century concepts, be fiscally responsible, and help kick-start a $5 billion city wide revitalization program. This was the challenge presented to The School District of Philadelphia (SDP) in 2017 when beginning a capital program for their 339 schools and starting with one of their largest elementary schools which was discovered to be structurally unsound during early investigation and planning. This discovery led to the decision to replace Solomon Solis-Cohen Elementary School which was serving 1,400 students in the city of Philadelphia and would be the first new elementary school for the city in 10 years.

Modern concepts of collaborative education and learning environments were implemented through community engagement with key stakeholders, community shared program space, need to minimize footprint on a limited site, and engage the neighborhood in a bold sustainable statement of the future of education in Philadelphia. Solomon Solis-Cohen’s design team including The School District of Philadelphia and their architects, Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates discussed the design process and its relative challenges that has recently moved the school from design into construction after approval by the new city school board.

The panel discussed four primary learning objectives including:

  1. Collaborative strategies for staff, teachers, students, community engagement and ownership of a facility and school’s new educational program;
  2. Awareness of fiscal management in developing a holistic design that meets community expectations, school district funding, grant engagement, safety and security and long term property maintenance;
  3. Analysis of a building design that strives to expand educational spaces into traditionally non-educational space with varied learning experiences and balancing them with the security challenges this may create;
  4. Hear how a school can be implemented within the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Sustainability (OOS) goals, that is responsible for implementing Greenworks, the City’s comprehensive sustainability plan

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