By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Classrooms that are illuminated with natural light, screens on which students can monitor their school's impact on the environment and wireless technology are just some of the amenities that could be part of Manassas's new Baldwin Elementary School.
On Monday, Charlottesville-based architectural firm VMDO presented those and other ideas to the Baldwin community. City officials are ready to bring down the nearly 50-year-old walls of the existing school to build an environmentally friendly facility that will not only house students but also get them excited to learn.
"Wouldn't it be fun if children showed up at the front of the school every day with the same enthusiasm as if they showed up at Disney World?" VMDO principal architect Robert Moje said. "We want to make this building site as enriching to the students and the community as possible."
VMDO was hired by the Manassas School Board last spring after three outside organizations determined that Baldwin needed to be rebuilt and not just renovated, School Superintendent Gail Pope said. VMDO has designed facilities throughout Virginia, including all the schools in Manassas Park.
School officials said they want construction to begin next spring and the school to open by fall 2010.
There are 450 students in the existing 70,000-square-foot facility. The new building, Moje said, will be made to house 600.
"I'm excited for more space," first-grader Kasey Connelly said. "With two floors, we would have more classrooms, and we wouldn't be squishing each other."
Kasey and his friends said they are excited about the new technology likely to be offered and hope to have laptops, a bigger library and a new playground. They also want to see a more colorful building.
"Let's paint it blue and red and white to look like an American flag," first-grader Alan Carter said. "I want a new twisty slide and a rocket on the playground that you can ride."
The Baldwin plan is part of the School Board's five-year capital improvement program. Although about $30 million is budgeted for the project, the school system's financial director said it's too soon to give concrete numbers. The only fixed cost is the $500,000 that was allocated in the School Board's fiscal 2008 budget to begin the process.
"It is particularly hard in this case [to estimate a cost] because there are so many questions that need to be resolved," Jennifer Maguire, the financial director, said. "It is premature to assign a definite amount. The cost will ultimately depend on what the School Board, community and City Council determine is needed."
Because schools are often funded through bond issues, Maguire said, when it comes time to approve a cost, the School Board will approach the City Council.
"We are all in this together," School Board Vice Chairman Scott M. Albrecht said. "The board wants to see a state-of-the-art facility that will grow with the city and be a significant asset to the city."
Baldwin has aging problems, said John Boronkay, deputy superintendent of administrative services. Classrooms are cramped, the roof occasionally leaks, and a strip of duct tape holds some floorboards together in the auditorium.
It is time, everyone says, for change.
"This is an exciting process and one we have looked forward to for a while," Baldwin Principal Ashley Cramp said. "Our challenge now is we have outdated features and a lack of space."
VMDO officials said one of the main focuses of this project is to draw on natural light by installing large windows and angling the building to where it will get the most sunlight. Officials said they have also considered using a geothermal system, by which groundwater would heat and cool the school.
Moje said that it typically costs about 1 to 5 percent more to build a green school but that it pays off in the long run.
"Virtually every [green school] has paid back," said Moje, noting cheaper energy costs for the schools as they age. "We will go over all the costs before we begin and determine how long it will take to pay itself back."
Moje also presented other possibilities for Baldwin's look and features. Although nothing is finalized, he said, he envisions a two-story, L-shaped facility.
Amenities could include outdoor ponds and study areas, a 45-foot-tall sundial, themed classrooms and a control board within the school's walls on which students can monitor the school's water and electric use and the temperature in and out of the building.
"I love that idea," Baldwin parent Lauren Monroe said of the control board. "I love that it's going to be a green school because my kids are very into the environment. I also like the idea they will be tying the building into education."
"This firm specializes in schools, and I've been very impressed with what they've done," Albrecht said. "I hope we build a quality facility that will do great things for future generations. I also hope that people can come back 30 years from now and say, 'I went to school here, and it's still a great place.' When it stands the test of time, that's when I will know we did well."