Frederick County Middle School
The design team was charged with the design of a new middle school for Frederick County, Virginia to replace the current in-town school. Along with the a new school campus the building would be a place to implement the student-centric and blended-learning strategies being promoted by a new superintendent and School Board. The design team created a vision with advocates from student, teacher, and citizen groups who shared their hopes for a school that would transform learning and their community. The site for this innovative middle school program was rightfully located in the under-served, rural Gainesboro Community in the northwest point of the County (and Commonwealth).
The vision developed through meetings and charrettes with the project advocates defined four qualities to incorporate into the design: student-centered, highly adaptable, community orientated, and high performing.
Educators appealed overwhelmingly for student-centered and highly adaptable spaces that would foster student creativity, collaboration, communication, and the making of things. The school is designed around 9 small learning communities (SLCs) each serving groups of 100 students. The SLCs are designed around three modes of 21st Century learning: know (instruction), understand (collaboration), and do (experiential). Replacing the traditional classroom are more open and configurable learning studios supplemented by high- and low-intensity labs, team rooms, and other student and teacher resources.
The heart of the school is an open, flexible, double height learning commons that includes a community room, open media center, IT genius bar, amphitheater stair, and a variety of educational displays. The cafeteria and physical education programs were reinvented (including an indoor running track, fitness studios, bouldering wall, and site walking trails) to promote long-term health and well-being and to act as community assets after hours.
Project advocates were passionate about providing a new school as both a source of pride for the often neglected communities around and including Gainesboro and as a resource for the community. The gymnasium and fitness loft allow for easy access by Parks & Recreation programs and residents can also use the Community Room for adult education classes or seminars in the evenings. Signage to identify site and landscape systems provides educational opportunities as well.
The design honors and celebrates the beauty of the site,, following the contours to balance cut-and-fill and limit impact. The project aims to be the first Net-Zero Water school in Virginia with no pipes entering or leaving the site. An artesian well provides high quality potable water, rainwater is harvested for non-potable water use, and a constructed wetland with drip disposal treats all waste on site. The building envelope has both a “wind-breaker” (continuous air barrier) and a wool sweater (3 1/2 inches to 5 inches of non-combustible mineral wool insulation). The building also employs high performance glazing and shading devices, a hybrid HVAC system that uses a geo-exchange, and low VOC materials.