The renovation and modernization of Kimball Elementary School (3375 Minnesota Ave. SE) is nearly complete. The $55 million project began in January 2018 and is expected to complete this July, with teachers scheduled to move into the building in August. Students have been in a swing space at Davis Elementary (4430 H St. SE) since the 2017-18 school year.
The renovation adds accessible spaces suitable for both school and community use while respecting the historic building. Prior to renovation, the Kimball campus consisted of a building dating to about 1941, as well as annexes built in 1949 and 1966, combining for about 75,000 square feet in total area. Both additions were demolished to be replaced by new construction. The new and renovated space will increase the footprint by about 10,000 square feet and can accommodate 450 students in anticipation of an increase in enrollment.
Declared DC Public Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee, “I am proud that students have the opportunity to learn in world-class facilities, and that Mayor Bowser and our city have made tremendous investments in our school buildings.”
‘The Building They Deserve’
Chief Operating Officer Patrick Davis helms the DCPS team that supervises school modernizations and renovations in the District, 18 of them currently in progress. Davis said that the Kimball modernization will help bring the building in line with what is going on inside. “We actually expect the school to become a little more popular with in-bound kids. As we see often when we’re redeveloping a building, we tend to attract more kids,” said Davis. “The school is doing really great things, and we’re just giving them the building they deserve.”
The design follows DCPS Education Specifications, or Ed Specs, which were published in 2015. The design team uses these guiding principles as a baseline for what a school of a certain size needs. The standards create consistency in facilities but allow the team to create spaces unique to each school and its programming. “They all have the same starting point,” Davis said. “But we don’t want cookie-cutter schools, so if they have a specialty program we try to highlight things like that.”
Kimball is committed to its science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) program, and so the design of the building is centered around the concept, linking science and nature. For instance, each floor accommodates different grade bands, with early education on the lowest floor and the highest grades, including fourth- and fifth-graders, at the top level. The floors have different color schemes to support wayfinding, each according to a different theme that evokes elements of both nature and science: water, earth, air and fire.
“The whole theme is biophilia, which is basically trying to connect students with views to nature,” Davis said. “When kids and staff have views out into a natural environment there’s research and data to show that it actually brings their stress levels down – so that was one of the intents of the design.”
A Civic PresenceDavis said a problem with the old school was that it lacked identity, an issue that was apparent immediately upon entering the building. The old entrance was located roughly at the corner of Minnesota Avenue and C Street SE, on a busy route near a bus stop. “People would essentially enter into a stairwell, which isn’t the most welcoming environment to walk into a school,” Davis explained.
The main entrance now is the light-filled glass connection point, which incorporates the exterior brick wall of the historic building and links it with the new construction. The entry opens onto Minnesota Avenue but also in the opposite direction, toward Sousa Middle School farther down Ely Place, a direction used by many families to come to school. “We wanted to react to how the students commute here, but we also wanted a civic presence along Minnesota,” explained Davis.
The building is designed for both academic and community use, with a secondary entrance for after-hours community events, such as meetings and celebrations. The gymnasium, library and cafeteria lie on the south side of the building and are separated from the classroom spaces by double doors that can be locked to keep the school spaces secure while providing access to the community spaces.
The library will be a flexible, mobile environment. All furniture will be on wheels, so the room can be reconfigured into zones. Interactive boards, a teaching station and mobile laptop carts will be available throughout. Separated from the library by a glass wall is a makerspace, where kids can tinker with equipment such as Legos and a 3-D printer, as well as a conference or work room.
An Environment Where They Can Be Peaceful
A courtyard at the center of the new construction is configured to support both education and play. The layout features an outdoor classroom as well as run-around space including a teaching wall to facilitate instruction and amphitheater seating. A cycle-track will support the cornerstone program, which teaches students how to ride tricycles and bicycles.
A glass wall can be opened or closed to allow direct access from the commons to the outdoors. “One of the things, just being on a busy, heavy traffic street, we wanted to create a sort of quiet oasis,” said Davis. “Also, this came out of engagement with the school and community about kids feeling secure and safe, and wanting an environment where they could just be peaceful.”
Learn more about Kimball’s modernization process by visiting www.sites.google.com/a/dc.gov/dcps-school-modernizations/home/maury-elementary-school. Learn about the modernization study at www.architectmagazine.com.