School tour focuses on innovation

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September 8, 2014 - 12:00 AM

OLATHE — Iola community members were given the opportunity to peer into the world of Olathe Northwest High School. Representatives from Hollis and Miller Architects and Universal Construction gave a tour to 30 Iolans Saturday of the suburban school.
USD 257 has hired both businesses to build a new elementary and high school if a bond issue passes in November.
Olathe Northwest was built in 2003 for 1,500 students and received additions when the student population grew. It is the fourth high school in the community and a fifth school, Olathe West, is in the works. Although Olathe Northwest is home to 2,000 students, Kirk Horner, architect, said the building’s design can be applied to Iola.
“The parts and pieces are no different than items that would go into a school of 400,” Horner said. “This is just at a larger scale.”
Horner noted the entrances to the schools. On weekends, a single entrance is open for ballgames or plays. On school days, students enter in the front of the building and teachers park and enter in the back of the school. Visitors must be buzzed in by administration.
A large interior courtyard is a popular meeting place for students.
At 12,000 square feet, the courtyard allows “students to enjoy the outdoors but still be in the school,” Horner said. “The courtyard gives a lot of natural light to classrooms, too.”

WHEN designing the building, architects had flexibility in mind. At Iola schools, walls are made of cement blocks, which make it extremely difficult for renovations and wiring for technology. Olathe’s interior walls are made to be torn down if needed to expand or renovate.
Even the furniture was kept in mind for fluidity. Desks are made to move around easily or expand. Storage lockers in classrooms aren’t mounted to walls so teachers have the ability to add or take away the units. Some classrooms have carpet but Universal Construction owner Steve Smith said flooring has changed over the years.
“Carpet squares are more cost efficient and more schools are using seamless Desco floors,” Smith said of the polymer product.
Horner said when planning a new school administration and staff should keep in mind how classrooms are organized in the shell of the building. Olathe has the science classrooms and laboratories on the west end of the school. Behind the rooms is a hallway used specifically for the easy and safe transport of class projects or chemicals.
In the parts of the school where there are two levels, a service elevator is used to transport items between floors instead of trying to navigate the heavy traffic in student hallways.
Technology is a huge part of the school. The school has a 1-to-1 initiative and computers are integrated into the curriculum. Engineering and science are popular subjects among students because of the amenities provided by the school.

THE NEW school in Olathe will have an open classroom concept, architects said. Students won’t sit in straight rows of desks in front of a white board. Instead, the rooms will be designed for group learning.
The school will have wind turbines and green features to make it more energy efficient.
After the tour, attendees weighed in on the pros and cons of the school.
Jefferson paraprofessional Kathy Shelby said she would like to see the new Iola schools have spaces that are conducive to learning.
“It’s difficult to find a space separate from the classroom to help a child on an assignment,” Shelby said. “We usually have to sit in the hallway.”
Regina Chriestenson, speech and drama teacher at Iola High School, was impressed with the classrooms.
“Our classrooms have lots of awkward spaces and there aren’t windows in most rooms,” Chriestenson said.
Bill Peeper, Iola High School history teacher, weighed in on the classrooms.
“There would be more learning opportunities for students with bigger classrooms,” he said.
Seeing how versatile Olathe was opened up Shelby’s eyes to its advantages over Iola schools.
“Those kids are going to be going to college with our kids later on,” she said. “How do we put them on an even academic playing field with our current facilities?”

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