Media Center + STEAM Space

Location:  Verona, NY

Completed:  2021

Program:  Media Center and STEAM Space

Construction Type: Adaptation/Reconfiguration/Reconstruction

Award:  2021 Citation for Design 

The Vernon Verona Sherrill (VVS) school district includes a large building in Verona that encompasses multiple schools, including the middle school. The design team was tasked with creating three transformative spaces within the middle school; a new main entrance, converting an existing standard classroom wing to a STEAM space, and bringing the old library into the 21st century. The three areas each presented unique programmatic requirements and constraints, so each were approached with different strategies: adaptation, reconfiguration, and reconstruction.

Adaptation: The existing building is an expanse of buff colored brick and small windows, so the challenge was to create a unique entry to provide the middle school an identity and clear differentiation from the rest of the building upon approach. Their school color, a bright shade of red, was chosen to attract the eye. This red color was used to coat a perforated metal scrim hovering over the entry doors, containing architectural lighting that provides a welcoming glow on dim mornings. A new more secure entry is located beyond the front doors, providing a required update to the check in/out procedures with new security measures integrated as well. The office layout was adjusted and adapted to work with the new more secure layout, and a new nurse’s suite was built to allow more capacity and improved privacy.

Reconfiguration: The existing library was outdated and under-utilized, and lacked many of the functions required of a modern learning and teaching space. Its large group instruction (LGI) space had a sloped floor and fixed furniture which limited its function and prevented any flexibility of use. Additionally, the computer lab confined the use of the technology to one space, rather than allow it to be fully integrated throughout. The district recognized the need to drastically reconfigure the library to support their vision of a forward-thinking space for students to thrive, as part of a larger holistic learning goal. Rebranded as the Learning Commons, it now boasts flexible classroom spaces, furniture supporting large and small group gatherings, and small group conference rooms. The maker space is a state-of-the-art lab that supports the districts technology actives such as robotics and drone research and exploration. The LGI has been transformed to a conference center with level floor, and flexible space dividers and furniture that may be configured in a multitude of ways as needs arise. The new aesthetic is one that vitalizes students and promotes learning and collaboration.

Reconstruction: In a large building with a maze-like plan, the academic wing that now contains the STEAM space was as nondescript as any other, a typical double loaded corridor lined with lockers, serving classrooms sized to meet minimum standards. The new STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) program required a complete rethinking of how a built environment should serve the space planning needs. Through exhaustive studies the design team determined that the new planning approach would be impossible to achieve utilizing the existing column grid structure, so the existing building was entirely removed down to the slab to allow for a clean sheet reconstruction. The new structure was designed with large castellated beams to clear-span over interior spaces with no limiting structural components to affect the new plan, which now integrates the space typically dedicated to circulation into the teaching spaces. The new STEAM pedagogy partners core subject teachers with a group of students for the year as they teach and learn in an integrated cross-curricular environment, encouraging teaming and interpersonal skills. The new space supports this by organizing classrooms around large communal areas, daylit from above by a raised roof with perimeter clerestory windows, allowing a variety of teaching styles, sizes of groups, and hands-on project work. Bright, bold colors and wall coverings were utilized to create an engaging and exciting place for students, and a variety of scaled spaces from small seating coves to large group areas accommodate all students and activities. Lastly, all teaching areas have direct access to the exterior, with covered outdoor spaces acting as a direct extension of classrooms, encouraging informal use of the building’s courtyards.