Architect: Eppstein Uhen Architects, Inc.
Owner: Waunakee Community School District
Contractor: J.H. Findorff & Son, Inc.
The new 156,000 square foot Waunakee Intermediate School can accommodate up to 800 fifth and sixth grade students, and the non-academic spaces are sized for an eventual student enrollment of 1,000 students in a future phase.
The Waunakee Community is experiencing rapid community growth. Embracing the community’s long farming history, the school is set on a 39-acre rural site that addresses the need for flexibility and future expansion.
Cohesive from outside in, the building design is connected to the site and scenery through its extensive use of glass to bring in more natural light and complementary color palettes that reflect the surrounding farm fields, prairies and meadows. The horizontal emphasis and rectangular patterns in the brick and carpeting emulate the surrounding long lines of crop rows, intentionally forming a relationship between the building and its community to instigate conversation and inquiry about the local farming heritage.
The new school is organized into learning neighborhoods representing natural elements necessary for growth – earth, wind, sun, water – as a means of wayfinding and student identity. Social interaction is cultivated through abundant breakout areas for discussions, wide multi-function corridors, and a social stairway with amphitheater-style setting. The library, media and technology center (LMTC) is in the middle of the building and serves as the heart of the school.
The interior design supports the educational programming, promoting an active learning atmosphere. Flexible furniture gives students the ability to form a variety of different group learning spaces, while the structure allows for future re-purposing as education evolves. A variety of graphics designed by local artists were used throughout the building, including a student-designed display of art glass tiles representing the four natural elements of the learning neighborhoods, and art panels reflecting the agrarian heritage of the campus setting.
The philosophy that “learning happens everywhere” extends to the exterior of the building, where spaces and habitat are specifically designed for student exploration. Directly outside the art area is an outdoor painting garden, where students can set up easels or work on other messy art projects. Outside of the LMTC, is a reading garden, formed with a gentle berm and rock steps that serve as a quiet respite. Under the large canopies are rock outcroppings that form a make-shift classroom in good weather. Much of the surrounding landscape that is not used for play or athletics has been designed as a natural prairie habitat for students to explore.
A sustainable project is more than a collection of green features; it is a network of systems working together for greater impact. With a focus on the environment, the new intermediate school became an educational story for energy savings and use-conscious design and construction. Utilizing geothermal heating and cooling systems with L.E.D. light fixtures throughout the building creates energy savings for the district. Solar panels on the roof generate power and high performance glass allows natural light to come in, while minimizing solar heat gain and glare. Daylight analysis modeling was completed to create window to wall percentage ratios, optimizing the amount of natural light within the learning environments. An online tool allows students to see how the mechanical functions are operating, including how much power is being generated and how the mechanical system is working.
Designing a school where students want to come back day-after-day because learning is exciting and rewarding, parents are thrilled with the continued development of their children, and the building represents financial stewardship of the community’s investment showcases the impact that good design can have.
The school addresses the next generation of learners while structurally being a teaching tool for sustainable, low-energy consumption, leading to a program loved by the district, students and community. The purposeful planning of spaces, forward-looking flexible design and thoughtful integration of the surroundings into the design has made this building a unifying landmark for this growing community.
Photos: C&N Photography