The designs for the Oregon School District’s new elementary school under construction in Fitchburg put an emphasis on creating “inspiring learning spaces.”

They incorporate modern elements while keeping true to existing district standards for elementary schools. In addition to several playgrounds, there are three inner courtyards, a butterfly garden and several dedicated collaboration areas designed for staff to make presentations to larger groups, or for multiple classrooms to work together on projects.

Solving problems collaboratively is an important part of the district’s focus for the future, and those educational ideas are embodied in the new design of the approximately 130,000-square-foot building, with dedicated spaces for collaboration and small-group instruction. There is also a focus on the natural aspects, from the site location itself to outdoor classroom and garden areas to facilitate the district’s ongoing focus on green and healthy initiatives.

The school will be the first "net-zero" school building in Wisconsin, said Nathan Schieve of Bray Architects, meaning it will create more energy than it produces. While the building will feature technologies already in use in the district like LED lighting and solar panels, he said the “size and careful coordination of each system” in the new school will enable it to have the "net zero" designation.

After the successful referenda last fall to pay for the land and school, district officials established a 19-member design team comprising staff and administrators to work with Bray Architects.

The idea was to develop design concepts that would be consistent with the district’s stated goals and values, district superintendent Brian Busler. These include ensuring “safe, appropriate, and inspiring learning environments for students, staff and community; equitable access to resources which provide opportunities to participate in meaningful, appropriate learning experiences; and innovative, flexible learning environments that support dynamic and evolving educational approaches.”

A focus on a more natural balance is shown in everything from increased use of “green” energy conservation technology like solar panels, geothermal heating and cooling and even the location of the building itself, sited to bring in as much natural light as possible. 

Schieve said providing natural light to all core spaces was an “extremely high priority” for the building, with a goal to reduce reliance on artificial lighting. 

“We arranged our large group resource spaces directly adjacent to classroom spaces hoping to maximize their use by students and staff, and also take advantage of natural light with exterior windows facing multiple directions,” he wrote the Observer in an email. 

Busler said the school will also have secure entrances and is “designed with safety and security as a priority.” Other buildings in the district got upgraded security features after the 2014 referendum.

But while the new building will have a more modern look and feel compared to current elementary schools now serving their second and third generations of OSD students, the idea is to keep some continuity in those buildings. An important part of the design philosophy was “providing similar high quality experiences across all our elementary schools,” said OSD communications director Erika Mundinger.

“I’d say there are more similarities than differences (in the design),” she wrote in an email to the Hub.

Busler said the design team guided the process based on “experience and expertise,” making sure to incorporate features to create “warm and inviting classrooms” and spaces that will help create an “inspiring learning environment.”

“(This) building was designed on the sole purpose of meeting the needs of our students today and into the future,” he said.

Email Unified Newspaper Group reporter Scott De Laruelle at scott.delaruelle@wcinet.com.