A sustainable way of learning

08 Feb 2010

Springfield's new elementary school aims to promote environmental understanding from a young age

The new Thurston Elementary School in the Springfield Public School District, completed in August 2009, replaces an existing school on the same site. Reflecting the surrounding McKenzie River valley, the gentle sloping silhouette of the two-storey classroom wings mirror the tree lined hills to the south and north of the site. Large sheets of exposed, tilt-up concrete underline the scale of the hills and proved to be the most economical local construction method.

The community and student population approach the school from the west side while the east side offers access to outdoor learning and a protected wetland. To promote student understanding of the natural systems, rainwater collected from the roof is put on display by directing flow into open concrete runnels that distribute into landscaped bio filtration cells.The classroom wings are connected by one-storey public zones with low rooflines which embrace the K-5 population.

Large wood framed glass walls on each side allow the outdoors to come inside and flow through these transparent connectors which house the entry, library and commons. Wood windows, benches, wall paneling and ceilings offer a welcoming, warm invitation to gather. The richly coloured wood work reflects the historic importance of the Springfield timber industry and the execution of the detailing showcases the local talent of woodwork craftsmanship.

The continuation of the exposed concrete on the inside creates a clear breakpoint with the classroom wings, where the neutral colour palette serves as a backdrop for the creativity of the students. Four classrooms are grouped around one break-out space with direct access to the outdoors. The internal transparency allows teachers to observe students at all times and encourages the development of smaller learning communities for each grade level.

Sustainable features have become learning tools and integrated throughout the building creating a high performance facility. Students are connected to the outdoors through large windows offering a variety of views. Exterior sunshades work in tandem with interior light shelves and reflective ceilings to allow classrooms to be naturally daylit throughout most of the day while reducing energy consumption.

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