Edwin Parr Composite School

    Executive Summary

    Edwin Parr Composite School, in Athabasca, Alberta, was the result of extensive collaboration between the School Division, Alberta Education, Alberta Infrastructure and the bridging architect to explore the potential connections that would result from locating a junior/senior high school on a local Multiplex site and partnering with potential post-secondary institutions, local industries and businesses.

    The Design Committee included the School Division Board Chair and School Division Trustees, the School Board Superintendent, Secretary Treasurer and Director of Curriculum and Technology, the Edwin Parr Composite School Principal, Vice Principal, Teacher Representative, Parent Council Representatives and Student Representatives, and a Multiplex Representative.

    The process to establish the partnerships, and the subsequent design, was highly collaborative. Through facilitated sessions each partner was able to establish and communicate what would represent success for them and understand how their priorities fit within the larger whole. The result is a stronger community whose values are represented in their community infrastructure.

    The educational environment was envisioned as a 21st Century Learning space, with flexibility, formal and informal learning areas, and considered sight lines and security features enabling staff to move toward the philosophy of the ‘teacher as a facilitator of learning,’ rather than as a lecturer.

    Organised around a central ‘street,’ learning areas range from self contained, reconfiguarbale classroom ‘pods’, to breakout spaces, a flexible student gathering space that incorporates an amphitheatre and drama room, as well as mechanical, fabrication and cosmetology areas, and two learning commons. A two storey library allows large volumes of natural light into the central ‘street’ of the school. Its strategic positioning adjacent to the main entrance, overlooked by the administrative area, allows the creation of a vestibule entrance that enables potential after hours use of the library outside of school hours.

    The school forms part of a growing rural/urban campus that includes the Athabasca University, the Athabasca Regional Multiplex, and a soon to be completed Aquatic Centre, as well as various ancillary services. The school’s design has embraced this opportunity for the mutual benefit of students and the community. The school is oriented so that the entrance and double height glazing of the library create strong visual connections to the surrounding facilities, while the site plan facilitates ease and efficiency of access for buses and parents. The proximity of the Multiplex, Aquatic Centre and university, combined with the surrounding fields and nearby ravines, enhance student experience by providing opportunity for a range of physical activities and learning opportunities.

    The result is a project that meets the challenges of genuinely collaborative design to identify, develop, and honor stakeholder values from project start to completion, delivering a school that embodies 21st Century Learning values, makes intelligent use of existing infrastructure, and in doing so works as part of a larger whole to enrich its students and its community.

     

    Education Vision and Goals

    The School Division, students, staff and stakeholders wanted the Edwin Parr Composite School to look forward and embrace some of the new ideas in the delivery of education in the Province. Particularly, the school should be designed to provide a variety of spaces for students to learn. The school staff continue to move toward the philosophy of the ‘teacher as a facilitator of learning’ rather than a ‘lecturer.’ This philosophy has the students learning in a variety of situations, such as self-directed, small interactive group work and classroom based learning.

    The school design has provided a number of spaces both formal and informal throughout the school where the students can do self-directed projects/learning or work in small groups.

    The two storey Edwin Parr School program is organized along a north south ‘street’ which acts as a strong rational organizational element and allows for easier supervision which is key for self directed and group learning. On the north and south ends of the ‘street’ outside each of the ‘learning pods’ is open area Learning Commons for use by students. The spaces can be supervised by teachers in the learning pods.

    On the second floor there is glazing on the ‘street’ that provides views into the library and borrow eastern light. The street widens at this point to provide a smaller flexible/student gathering area with a mixture of soft seating and tables. The career counselor’s office, wrap around services office and two breakout rooms are located in this location to provide more direct access to the students.

    Site and Context: The Edwin Parr Composite School site in relation to the town of Athabasca.

    Community and Context

    The stakeholders for the project included the School Division, the Town of Athabasca, Athabasca County, Athabasca University, Alberta Education, Alberta Infrastructure and Alberta Advanced Education. The design process included open house consultation sessions with the wider community at the end of schematic design and design development.

    The site for the Edwin Parr Composite School is located adjacent to the Athabasca Multiplex and new Aquatic Centre and across University Avenue from the Athabasca University’s Main Building and the Academic Building. The rural/urban campus site is not a typical school site, as it is not located in the heart of a residential neighbourhood. The site is a mixture of prairie woodlands and agricultural fields which provide spectacular views from the school.

    Educational Environment

    “From classrooms with glass walls, pod design, amount of windows, use of space… [the bridging architect] was able to encompass that vision in a functional and aesthetically pleasing school.”
    – Sean Morrison, Design Committee Member and Assistant Principal, Edwin Parr Composite School

    Educational Vision and Goals of the School
    The School Division is committed to preparing its students to achieve success and reach their unique potential by providing meaningful, inspiring and engaging learning opportunities in caring, respectful, safe and inclusive schools.

    The School Division, students, staff and stakeholders wanted the Edwin Parr Composite School to look forward and embrace some of the new ideas in the delivery of education in the Province. Particularly, the school should be designed to provide a variety of spaces for students to learn. The school staff continue to move toward the philosophy of the ‘teacher as a facilitator of learning’ rather than a ‘lecturer.’ This philosophy has the students learning in a variety of situations, such as self-directed, small interactive group work and classroom based learning. The School Division acknowledged the greater role technology is playing in the resources students use and how they learn. In order to facilitate these new learning styles the teachers require greater opportunities for interaction with students in and out of the classroom. The school design has provided a number of spaces both formal and informal throughout the school where the students can do self-directed projects/learning or work in small groups. The Design Committee and consultant team allocated area from Information Services and Flexible Space to provide this type of formal and informal learning. Some of the Information Services space is enclosed to create formal spaces, while other Information Services and Flexible Spaces are left open and accessible to the students throughout the day.

    Supporting the Curriculum, Learning and Teaching Styles, Adaptability, and Flexibility
    The two storey Edwin Parr School program is organized along a north south ‘street’ which acts as a strong rational organizational element and allows for easier supervision which is key for self directed and group learning. Early in the design the concept of a ‘learning pod’ was developed. Each pod accommodates three core classrooms, a science room, small ancillary room, learning commons area, science prep room, storage room and staff work room. The small ancillary room and adjacent classroom are designed with sliding doors to create a larger flexible classroom to facilitate team teaching. The school has a total of four learning pods, two pods on the ground floor and two pods on the second floor. The learning pods are located on the south-west corner and the north east corner anchoring the design and the ‘street’. The learning pods can be configured in a variety of ways to meet the programmatic needs of the students and curriculum,

    On the north and south ends of the ‘street’ outside each of the ‘learning pods’ is open area learning commons for use by students. The spaces can be supervised by teachers in the learning pods.

    The Fabrication Lab, Mechanics Lab and Gymnasium are clustered together due to their large volume space and are located along the west side of the ‘street’ which provides direct access to the playing fields on the west side of the site and the service court for the CTS labs. The Food Fashion Lab is also located along the west side to provide access to the school canteen.

    The two storey Library is located along the east side of the ‘street’ adjacent to the main entrance to the school. This allows the library to have door in the main entrance vestibule of potential after hours use of the library by the community. Similarly the Administration Suite is located along the east side of the ‘street’ and the main entrance with a door from the main entrance vestibule to the Administration Suite to maintain security during school hours.

    The north south ‘street’ accommodates not only circulation space but is also expanded to accommodate instructional and non-instructional program elements. On the ground floor a double height flexible/student gathering space is located adjacent to the main entrance and the west entrance used by student arriving by bus and accessing playing fields. A double height ancillary room to accommodate drama is located on the south side of the flexible/student gathering space. A folding wall is located between the drama room and flexible/student gathering space to act as a performance space. A large ‘amphitheater’ stair/bleacher configuration is located on the north side to provide seating for performances and casual use by students. A Cosmetology lab and art room are locate between the gymnasium and the library. The art room is designed with glass sliding storefront doors on the north side to borrow light from the glazing. Similarly on the second floor a graphics lab and a music room are located between the gymnasium and the library. An outdoor learning classroom is located over the Administration Suite.

    On the second floor there is glazing on the ‘street’ that provides views into the library and borrow eastern light. The street widens at this point to provide a smaller flexible/student gathering area with a mixture of soft seating and tables. The career counselor’s office, wrap around services office and two breakout rooms are located in this location to provide more direct access to the students.

     

    Physical Environment

    Physical Attributes of the Environment
    The site for the Edwin Parr Composite School is located adjacent to the Athabasca Multiplex and new Aquatic Centre and across University Avenue from the Athabasca University’s Main Building and the Academic Building. The site is located west of downtown Athabasca, above the Athabasca River valley. The rural/urban campus site is not a typical school site, as it is not located in the heart of a residential neighborhood. The site is a mixture of prairie woodlands and agricultural fields which provide spectacular views from the school.

    Context Within the Community
    The design team reviewed a variety of options for the siting of the new school. As with the school, the Multiplex design is also organized around a central ‘street,’ which runs in an east-west direction and links the field-house, administration, daycare, curling rink, arena, dressing rooms and new Aquatic Centre. The ‘street’ also connects the public parking lot on the east side of the Multiplex to the new Edwin Parr Composite School and playing fields on the west side. The school is sited perpendicular to the Multiplex ‘street,’ with the spine of the school running in a north-south direction. While the school is not physically linked to the Multiplex, there are direct views of the school and the school’s main entrance from the Multiplex west entrance and vice versa. Careful consideration for building code means the 18 meter separation between the west perimeter of the Multiplex and Aquatic Centre and the school’s east façade allows both the school and the pool to use unrestricted areas of glazing and provide excellent exterior views. The designated bus drop off for the 16 buses is provided along the west side of the school with a north-south road which allows buses to pull in, drop-off students and pull out and exit the site in an linear manner. The parent/student drop off is facilitated with a circular drop-off on the east side of the school between the new school and the new Aquatic Centre. The drop-off loop is shared by the school and Aquatic Centre. The parking is located on the south side of the school, off University Avenue. This siting of the school physically separates the bus drop-off, parent/student drop-off and parking. The playing fields are located on the west side of the site and the on the north side of the school, and are configured to have the preferred north-south orientation.

    The north-south bus service road also provides access to a service court located on the north side of the CTS Labs. This allows access to the Mechanics and Fabrication Labs.

    The alignment of the library and main entrance perpendicular to the Multiplex ‘street’ allows the library to be centrally located in the school. The two storey library is a prominent feature on the building’s east elevation. If the municipal library moves to the campus site it would have direct views and access to the Multiplex. The main entrance has a central location with direct access to the administration suite to provide security for the school during the day. The administration suite also has direct views of the parent/student drop-off as well as the parking lot to provide passive security. The north-south orientation of the school allows for the classrooms, library and administration suite to have either east or west light.

    The school’s location, which provides views of the school from University Avenue, was important to the School Division and the School Administration. The school has its own address that is independent of the Multiplex and new Aquatic Centre while simultaneously being an integral part of a campus which includes Athabasca University’s main building as well as the Athabasca Multiplex and new Aquatic Centre.

    Inspiration and Motivation
    The Campus location for the Edwin Parr Composite School reinforces the school’s strong focus on physical education in both team and individual sports. In addition to access to the school gymnasium the students have access to the Multiplex and its facilities including the new Aquatic Centre. The rural/urban site allows the students to competitively pursue such activities as cross country skiing and cross country running on the developed trails in the river valley and adjacent ravines. The natural site with its variety of habitats provides the school with a living classroom for students to study subjects such as biology and horticulture.

    The location adjacent to Athabasca University and technology provided in the school encourages students to pursue courses on-line to enhance their academic pursuits.

    The two storey light filled library is a focal point for the school. The long west wall of the library became the inspiration for a linear mural painted by a local indigenous artist connecting the school and community with the area’s First Nations and Métis heritage.

    Edwin Parr Library Cross Laminated TimberLibrary: A double height ceiling and glazing gather natural light, making a perfect canvas for local art.

    Results of the Process and Project

    “The School has more than exceeded the vision of how students will learn in unique spaces…”
    – Sean Morrison, Design Committee Member and Assistant Principal, Edwin Parr Composite School

    Achieving Educational Goals and Objectives
    The School Division is committed to preparing its students to achieve success and reach their unique potential by providing meaningful, inspiring and engaging learning opportunities in caring, respectful, safe and inclusive schools.

    Achieving School District Goals
    The School Division and the Edwin Parr Learning Community wanted a design that serves the diverse interests and needs of student learning in a 21st century environment. It was recognized by the Design Team that in terms of physical, social and academic development there is a great deal of difference between a grade 7 student and a grade 12 student. The school design provides a variety of spaces where the various grade levels can assemble and learn collectively and independently.

    The sight lines along the ‘street’, flexible/student gathering areas and open area learning commons provide for a safe and secure environment for students and staff.

    Natural light and views were a priority of the School Division. All teaching areas and occupied spaces receive appropriate levels of natural light, either by windows or borrowed light, unless natural light would be a deterrent to the program, such as drama.

    Achieving Community Goal
    The Town of Athabasca and Athabasca County sought to create a dynamic recreation and education campus. The addition of Edwin Parr Composite School provides increased opportunities for students to have access to the hockey and curling arenas, field house, fitness centre, new Aquatic Centre and Athabasca University. The school provides additional recreation space with after hours access to the gymnasium and sports fields. The design of the school allows the potential for the Municipal Library to move up to the campus.

    Unintended Results and Achievements of the Process and Project
    The Edwin Parr Composite High School and the New Athabasca Aquatic Centre brought together three separate organizations (the School Division, Town of Athabasca, County of Athabasca and Athabasca University) to develop an innovative partnership and create enhanced educational and recreational opportunities for the Town and County of Athabasca.

    The choice of the library’s double height, natural light filled space as the canvas for the linear mural painted by a local indigenous artist was a welcome affirmation that the planning process and resulting project had created an environment which could connect the community and allow them to express themselves in creative and educational ways.