Learning Exploration Arises from Devastation: Wisner-Pilger Elementary School

After twin EF-4 tornadoes leveled much of Pilger, NE on June 24, 2014, Wisner-Pilger Schools had to quickly figure out how to pick up the pieces of the Pilger Elementary School and rebuild. BVH Architecture was on the site within two days to assess the viability of rehabilitating the stately 1909 building. Unfortunately, the devastation was too great, and the structure was deemed unstable and unsafe.

After studying options of rebuilding on site and weighing other needs of the school district, the option emerged to add on to the Junior-Senior High School site and create a single site for the 425 students. With this new opportunity, we worked with the school to create a dynamic learning environment that transformed the building into an educational tool. Interpretative corridor walls elevate math, geography, and languages into interactive walls that help contextualize classroom activities. The building structure and mechanical systems are exposed, allowing first-hand investigation into how things work.

Natural daylighting strategies bring ample light into the classrooms and resource spaces. In-depth design options were analyzed to determine the optimal mix of diffuse skylights, clear windows, and veiled windows. The exterior shell of the building was examined to determine the appropriate amount of wall insulation and window ratios to optimize efficiency while also creating a stimulating environment.

Classroom windows were arranged to support the educational activities. High windows are kept away from the teaching wall to minimize glare on whiteboards. Low windows are situated where reading carpets & nooks are envisioned. Standard height windows are located at appropriate heights to allow views for students at desks. The overall arrangement creates a dynamic facade while serving very real educational goals.

The building is organized to create synergies for both academics and activities. The elementary classrooms are arranged in interconnected pairs along the perimeter surrounding resource spaces. This arrangement was carefully designed to follow the classroom cycles and break-out educational methods used by the educators. Various types of room environments were created to allow a range of open and closed spaces for a variety of focused and closed to expansive and open spaces. Rooms are flexible to allow constant rearranging into different configurations for a variety of group dynamics.

The plan design allows use of commons spaces during the day for classroom breakout space, cafeteria and other uses while also allowing locking off areas for public use of commons, gyms, library and office spaces after hours. The new addition stitches itself into the overall campus and creates connections to the Junior/Senior High to support the “walk-to-read” program where upper level students come read to and teach elementary students. This also creates a cohesive campus atmosphere internally and externally stitching the new and old pieces of the architecture together in a seamless composition.

Learn more about the new Wisner-Pilger school and see more photos, and find out more about building the future of education.


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