Written by Royce A. Yeater, AIA
It’s a very uplifting experience, judging students who have designed their School of the Future. If you ever felt the future was looking grim, the experience of watching teams of bright and creative 6th, 7th, and 8th graders present their visions of what the school of the future should be like will buoy your spirits and make you an optimist.
Each year in April, the Council of Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI) sponsors School Building Week to highlight the important role that school facilities play in shaping both our youth and the communities they serve. The highlight of the week is the School of the Future Competition that brings seven teams of young designers to Washington, DC for a week to present their visionary schools to a jury of prominent school facility experts in hope of going home with a cash prize and bragging rights to boot. The seven finalist teams are already winners when they arrive, having won regional honors in an earlier presentation to regional juries assembled by CEFPI. They come to Washington to show off their designs once more, but also to explore museums and sites of our capital city.
While most teams assume a blank slate is necessary for a futuristic school, this years’ competition included a team from Tucson, Arizona that focused its efforts on adapting their historic school to meet the needs of a 21st Century education. Sabrina Garay, Adrian Ruiz, Paulina Gomez, Jesus Ortega from Roskruge Bilingual Middle School applied very creative thinking to renovate their historic school. They displayed great understanding of their unique climate and its relation to life, buildings and the environment. They took the three Rs of the environmental mantra literally – “Reuse, Renew, Recycle” – to demonstrate a strong grasp of sustainable concepts. Even more remarkable was their use of simple, "real-world" solutions to rehabilitate an existing structure using green technologies. Combining fun with learning, the students designed innovative playground equipment to drive water distribution systems and create energy, and designed hanging gardens in the existing light courts of the historic school to grow fresh produce for the school cafeteria.
Roskruge School, was built in 1908 as a K-12 neighborhood school and served all grade levels until a new high school was built nearby in 1924. It then served as a elementary and middle school for most of the 20th century. Today as a bilingual magnet school, it draws its largely Hispanic student body from across the city, but a significant number of students live in the area and walk to school, a point that the design team made clear in their presentation to the jury. The neighborhood is alive and vital but not wealthy, and serves a largely Hispanic student body. The Spanish Baroque style school, much treasured by students and neighborhood alike, was listed in 1980 on the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing building in the West University Historic District of Tucson.
If these kids have anything to say about the future, older and historic schools will be a part of it, with renovations that incorporate the latest in technology and sustainable practices. Now that’s a future I am looking forward to.
Royce A. Yeater, AIA is the director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Midwest Office.