Building for Future Generations: New Spaces Provide 21st Century Learning for Students

Building for Future Generations: New Spaces Provide 21st Century Learning for Students

Stirn Hall has a barn-like look that honors its history.

The movement to transform schools into 21st Century learning centers isn’t complete. There are private and public educational leaders in Northeast Ohio working to update not only classroom technology, but also the spaces in which students learn and communicate with their peers and teachers.

This fall, schools such as Hawken School in Gates Mills and Lake Ridge Academy in North Ridgeville opened new, state-of-the art buildings. The projects at these college preparatory schools provide new learning opportunities for both students and faculty.

At Stirn Hall at Hawken School, there are many common areas for students to collaborate with peers and faculty.
Stirn Hall offers many common areas for students to collaborate with peers and faculty.

Hawken School’s Stirn Hall
In this high school, it’s perfectly OK to write on the walls.

Stirn Hall, on Hawken’s Upper School campus, was reinvented and features a modern, educational look without straying too much from the school’s roots and philosophy.

School officials felt the project was needed due to rising student enrollments within the upper school.

D. Scott Looney, head of school, says they wanted a clean, modern-looking building.

“The most pressing issue was not enough classrooms — we outgrew our campus,” he says. “Our teaching/learning space was counter to all the new research. Space matters and we wanted to lead that conversation with our new building. We have the ability to teach to a wide variety of learning styles.”

Working with Cleveland-based architects Westlake Reed Leskosky, construction of the new building began last May. The 110,000-square-foot upper school, estimated to cost $26.5 million, was completed this fall.

While parts of the building still retain some current classroom wings and the auditorium, the development of the newer spaces provides hands-on, community-based learning for students.
“We wanted to adopt some of the best practices of a college and university setting,” Looney says.

This includes non-traditional moveable desks so students and staff can easily arrange to best suit learning needs.

Writable paint is on the classrooms walls. Teachers and students use dry erase markers  on walls (and windows) to map out ideas, curriculum-based projects and more.

Student also have access to a café and college-like open common areas with natural light shining through, including a large staircase that can turn into an impromptu amphitheater for 100 people. The offices and classrooms also have large glass separators.

This building is open and transparent, and provides visual connections in these areas, according to Looney, as it helps to build a sense of community between teachers, students and other staff.

The former White Family estate, which serves as the student dining hall, keeps with tradition, with only a room added to the home to accommodate the school’s growing student body. Also a nod to tradition is the school’s barn-like exterior appearance, which pays homage to the more than 300-acre Circle W Farm where the campus was built in the 1960s.

Lake Ridge Academy’s Kemper Science and Engineering Building
The Kemper Science and Engineering building at Lake Ridge Academy opened this fall and will be used by all students.

Lake Ridge Academy's new Spellman Science Suite chemistry lab.
Lake Ridge Academy’s new Spellman Science Suite chemistry lab.

The 9,200-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility houses a greenhouse, chemistry lab and an engineering fab lab.

“The Kemper Science and Engineering building supports our K-12 Center for Scientific Exploration and Research by providing our students with a greenhouse large enough to conduct classes and a new chemistry lab comparable to the labs found at research universities,” Michael Shaulis, the school’s head of academics  says. “The lab space for the high school students in our Institute for Scientific Research and a fab lab allows the engineering part of our K-12 STEAM program to be as innovative and dynamic as the rest of our science, technology, art, and math offerings.”

The new building project, which cost an estimated $3.5 million, was solely funded by the school’s alumni, parents, friends and staff.

When going into the Kemper Science and Engineering building, one immediately enters a large presentation room called “Exploratorium” that will provide a space for students to explore various learning projects and will serve as a place for special speakers and presentations.

In each of the learning spaces, students and staff have a comfortable college-like setting with open tables.

The Navratil Engineering Fab Lab, a new concept for the school, allows students to get creative digitally and through traditional equipment. They can use machines, such as a 3D printer to cut out designs.
The Spellman Science Suite, according to the school, is a much-needed space to accommodate students for chemistry, but also for those doing research projects. It also has state-of-art technology with its two fume hoods, which are ventilation structures to protect students when they are working with chemicals.

“Science and engineering has been a growing field and we have been expanding this part of the curriculum,” says Susan Haas, director of marketing and communications. “We needed a more upgraded space.”

While upper school students will work in many of these classrooms, the building was designed to meet the needs of all students, including the use of a greenhouse. The controlled-temperature room already houses potted plants created by the lower school. It also provides an opportunity for the older students to do year-round botany experiments.

About the author

Angela Gartner has been the editor at Northeast Ohio Parent Magazine since 2014. She has won local and national awards for her features, columns and photography over the years. Previously, her work appeared in publications including The News-Herald, Sun Newspapers and The Chicago Tribune. She grew up in Northeast Ohio and is a mom of two boys. The whole family is busy every weekend with sports and finding new happenings around the region. She is also a board member and past president at the Cleveland Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. She loves reading, writing poetry and taking the family's Scottish Terrier on walks.

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