The construction of two elementary schools in Stillwater may give the town its first certified green schools, which will benefit the community and the students.
The schools will replace Highland Park Elementary and Will Rogers Elementary to provide more space than the current buildings, which are nearing capacity. The schools will be open for next school year.
The new buildings are designed to qualify for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification. The U.S. Green Building Council developed this rating system in 1994 to help people strive to make their buildings safer and more environmentally friendly.
James Ryan, assistant superintendent for Stillwater Public Schools, said certification will propel Stillwater’s environmentally friendly reputation. The buildings’ features will focus on preserving energy and natural resources.
“It’s important for our community to understand that we’ve made an effort to make the schools very, very energy efficient, very easy to clean and maintain,” Ryan said. “We’ve been very careful with landscaping design, so they don’t use too much water.”
Safety is another feature that is emphasized. Highland Park and Will Rogers were built in 1950. As a result, the schools are worn down, and they lack many safety features of newer schools.
The new schools will receive underground storm shelters large enough to contain all of the students and faculty, which are necessities the original schools lack, Ryan said.
“After (the tornado in Joplin, Mo.) happened, it was clear that our schools need to be safer, and these are our first two schools that have significant investments in storm shelters,” Ryan said.
Also, Ryan said the new schools need to be big enough to make room for the increasing number of students. There are 6,000 students enrolled in Stillwater Public Schools, which is the highest it has ever been. Highland Park and Will Rogers have not exceeded their capacity, which is about 500, but they will soon, Ryan said.
The current schools each house about 450 children, and the new schools will hold 600. This increase will temporarily provide enough room for the high demand of students, but it will not last for long.
A $61.5 million bond election in 2011 allowed for the two schools to be replaced. A third school, Westwood Elementary, was also considered for replacement. Westwood was also built in 1950 and had many of the problems the other schools faced.
Although this school was nearing its capacity, the bond could only pay for two schools. Stillwater Public Schools considered Westwood to be in better shape than the others and decided to postpone its reconstruction, Ryan said.
Ross Barney Architects Inc., an architectural firm in Chicago, designed the new buildings for Highland Park and Will Rogers. It worked closely with Stillwater Public Schools to ensure the buildings will meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design criteria.
“(Ross Barney Architects) have done an amazing job in making these buildings beautiful and functional and something we’ll be really proud of as a community when they finish,” Ryan said.
Both schools will be 92,000 square feet.
Highland Park, which is at East Sixth Street and South Drury Street, will be one story.
Eric Martin, a principal architect at Ross Barney Architects, said because the school is being built on a vacant site, the firm was able to be creative with its layout.
“The site was pretty much heavily vegetated with cedar trees, so they kind of helped form the concept of hiding some of the school among the cedar trees,” Martin said.
The building is in the center of the trees, which gives the school a forest theme.
Vegetable and flower gardens will be planted in the school’s courtyard, and there will be rain cisterns for irrigation. A tree will be planted in the center of the cafeteria. The tree will be inside a circular atrium, which allows it to pass through the roof and grow taller than the building.
The Will Rogers construction site is at North Washington Street and West Eskridge Avenue, which is next to the current school.
Although Will Rogers does not have the luxury of being built on a vacant site, it will have two stories.
In addition, the current building will be torn down and turned into a soccer pitch for the students.
Selser Schaefer Architects, a Tulsa firm, is in charge of the schools’ construction. Bret Pfeifer, an architect there, said each school will have 45 classrooms.
“The classes range from traditional classroom settings, like math and history, but also classes specialized in teaching English as a second language,” Pfeifer said.
Both schools will also feature improved media centers.
The Stillwater-based company, Lambert Construction, is building the schools. Clarence Lambert, who founded the company, was the project manager for the construction of the original Will Rogers Elementary. His grandson, Mark Lambert, is the project manager for its replacement.
“One thing that’s kind of interesting is the original school was, in many respects, ahead of its time in terms of the design,” Mark Lambert said. “It was an award-winning design back when the original school was built, and we’re confident the new building will be an award-winning project.”
Highland Park Principal Kurt Baze said he is excited to move in to the new school.
“It’s going to be awesome,” Baze said. “The process has been very good. The teachers have been very involved in the design of it for over a year now. It’s very cool for the students and the teachers to see the progress and walls going up and that kind of stuff.”
Although Baze is excited for the move, he said he is worried about having everything moved in on time before the next school year.
“Hopefully (the construction) will be done in July of next summer, and we’ll have a couple weeks to get furniture in and get set up before school starts,” Baze said. “It’s going to be stressful, and the main stress is knowing exactly the dates and the times. We’re still developing a plan for moving.”