By Tysen Gannon
Building a “state of the art” school is more than simply integrating technology into its classrooms. It also involves creating an environment that fosters learning and prepares students for the workplace of tomorrow.
And, it starts at the blueprints.
Incorporating functional learning spaces for students while addressing the needs of teachers and staff was a crucial focus for North Creek High School (NCHS) just north of Seattle. To address the rapidly growing student population in the Northshore School District, the district sought out designs for their new school that emphasized a shared learning experience across Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculums.
In order to prepare its 21st century students for their careers of the future, the district partnered with architecture firm Dykeman, Inc., to design an atmosphere that instills a culture of cooperation.
A new generation of shared learning
Traditional school construction has long relied on designs that are oriented around a central corridor. Due to the lack of available and accessible rooms, the corridor became an ad hoc meeting location and gathering place in schools. While functional, this setup can lead to congestion in hallways and a lack of dedicated quiet spaces for students to study or work together on group projects.
To incorporate features that reflect this natural tendency to gather and learn together, the design team at Dykeman developed the concept of “collaboration cubes.” These cubes, located on each floor of the school, enable students to gather in informal study groups or work on class projects. They also help bring teacher offices into the central areas of NCHS.
For additional privacy and decreased sound transfer, architects specified AD Systems’ single-leaf sliding doors for each of the cubes. The doors easily slide open and closed, increase space by eliminating swing paths and offer privacy while maintaining visibility for teachers and staff.
As a result of these benefits, the doors enhance the flexibility of how students and staff use the cubes. As Trish Sherman, NCHS Project Manager at Dykeman summed up: “The sliding doors were a key component in bringing the collaborative concept to life.”
The single-leaf doors’ sliding capability further allows “for an open-door policy, where students feel comfortable approaching,” said Michael Stevens, NCHS Project Architect at Dykeman. “The result is a more open, approachable space.”
Furthermore, sliding doors save valuable square footage, directly correlating with NCHS’ culture of working together. Eliminating a door’s swing path, creates more room for students and teachers to spread out in a comfortable setting.
“Without extra swing, you can do a lot more in a small space. This was one of the key reasons for the barn sliding doors,” Stevens continued.
Designing the perfect space for focus and learning
AD Systems’ sliding doors are available in a range of wood species, plastic laminates, aluminum stile and rail doors, glass and other glazing panels.
To match their desired aesthetic, Dykeman utilized sliding doors in a wood stile with glass infill panels for the collaboration cubes. The doors’ transparent look complements the design of the classrooms, all of which feature a full glass wall. The glazing added to the sliding doors also captures the ample natural light that filters through the high school, creating a bright space for student learning.
As well, the school’s designers incorporated murals of notable historic collaborations, such as the Wright brothers, to unite the different rooms. The cubes give students a space to work independently and dream up their own innovations or work together on a group project, similar to the coworking facilities common in many of today’s office buildings.
“I like the openness of the space,” Amanda Rainwater, a Science Teacher on Special Assignment at the school said. “As a classroom teacher, not only do I have my classroom space, but I also have space outside of the classroom to do work with my students. It helps the teachers that want to do group work or have students working on different projects at the same time.”
Controlling the learning environment
While the sliding doors promote student collaboration, staff can also utilize the cubes for closed-door meetings.
With acoustic jamb gaskets and drop-down bottom seal features, the doors can tighten the perimeter, reduce noise transmission and control the volume of sound heard from outside the room. The combination of seals and mounting hardware can provide Noise Isolation Class values up to 39, which exceeds the Facility Guidelines Institute’s STC 35 target for speech privacy. This gives students and staff the confidence that parent-teacher conferences or student-counselor meetings can’t be overheard outside.
Closing the sliding doors also creates a learning environment with fewer interruptions and less noise. The soft-close dampening system helps decrease overall noise transfer for a more distraction-free setting.
Researchers at Florida State University have found that noise makes students less flexible and adaptable to dealing with changing task demands. The noise-reducing sliding doors combat this, and can positively impact overall scholastic performance. For Sherman and Stevens, acoustic considerations were an important component of NCHS’ design, and the sliding doors help deliver an ideal learning environment, even during boisterous group discussions.
Increasing safety and accessibility
Beyond NCHS, interior sliding doors are becoming more commonplace in other educational settings where accessibility and safety are primary concerns. ADA-compliant privacy locks and latching hardware don’t require pinching, twisting or grasping, increasing usability for all. Sliding doors can also include self-closing systems or be fully automated, opening and closing with the wave of a hand or push of a button to make the facility easier to navigate for students and staff with compromised mobility.
Thanks to new technology, sliding doors can also improve a building’s safety by controlling the spread of fire. Fire-rated wood sliding doors from AD Systems can help control and contain flames and smoke and have undergone Underwriters Laboratories testing, achieving a 45-minute UL 10B fire rating. In the event of a fire, students and staff have more time to safely exit the building, and designers can still integrate clean, modern design.
With the design and implementation of the cubes, NCHS has delivered its vision of collaborative learning to a new generation of students. Visitors of the central hall can observe hundreds of students flowing in and out of the cubes for team projects or quiet study spaces. The private rooms have also become popular with staff for group meetings and other noise-sensitive discussions.
Thanks to sliding doors, the building’s designers have given the students, faculty and staff the blueprint to create shared learning experiences for years to come.
Tysen Gannon, LEED AP, is director of business development for AD Systems. Gannon has more than 15 years of experience in the architectural products industry, including roles in sales, product management, research and marketing, with a focus on glass and glazing, fenestration and façade systems. www.specadsystems.com