By Russell Hixson
STILLWATER, Okla. —
When Stillwater Public Schools started planning the construction of two elementary schools, officials used it as an opportunity to make them more than four walls and a roof. Their goal was to create the most efficient and student-friendly environment possible.
But the story starts 60 years ago when the old Will Rogers Elementary School and Highland Park Elementary School were constructed. Assistant Superintendent James Ryan said when the buildings were constructed, they were on the cutting edge, winning numerous awards for design. But over the years, much of those features — such as large windows and a climate control system — were gutted.
“It’s all coming back,” said Ryan.
The present Will Rogers and Highland Park elementary schools house nearly 1,200 of the school district’s student population — and big changes are coming.
Ryan said when school officials began planning the new schools, the priority was to make the schools sustainable and create an optimal learning environment. The district contacted dozens of design firms in Oklahoma. The district ended up getting responses from all over the world.
The district chose Tulsa firm Selser Schafer Architects, which partnered with Ross Barney Architects, a Chicago firm.
One of the major changes coming to the schools is the use of geothermal systems to heat and cool. Each new school has 120 wells connected to tubing that goes nearly 400 feet into the ground where the temperature remains constant. This helps keep the building warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
“It’s a much more efficient way of heating and cooling,” Ryan said.
Two years ago, the school district did an energy audit which showed the schools are efficient but improvements could be made. In an effort to make improvements, the district set its sights on getting both new buildings Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified — also known as LEED certified. The new schools, scheduled to open this year, will feature energy efficient lighting, natural lighting and water efficient plants.
Ryan said in addition to saving money and helping the environment, the changes accomplish a loftier goal. They transform the building into a tool of learning. Ryan said well-designed, well-functioning and comfortable schools create the best possible physical environment for learning. Students who aren’t distracted by classrooms being hot, cold, loud, quiet or poorly lit are more likely to pay attention. Each classroom will be able to control its own thermostat, lighting and sound control as the teacher will be using a microphone.
“We wanted to build something more than a box full of boxes,” Ryan said.
Ryan said Highland Park is 75 percent complete and is expected to be ready for students in the fall. Will Rogers is about 65 percent complete and should be ready for students two weeks or so into the school year.