Urbana Early Childhood School
Prairie Elementary School Connecting Addition
Faced with the challenge of operating within turn-of-the-century facilities, Urbana School District 116 opted to provide its early childhood education program with a new facility in 2010. The new building serves an important role in the community, enhancing opportunities for a diverse student base. Located adjacent to the existing Prairie Elementary School, the single-story Early Childhood Center serves pre-kindergarten students between ages three and five and provides programs for children eligible to receive at-risk and special education services. The project team focused on major considerations such as student scale, natural materials, transparency, wayfinding, flexibility, safety, and a friendly, residential style.
Based on best practices and a child-centric design philosophy, the new 180-student facility comprises three distinct four-classroom “villages” aligned with shared program spaces. These shared spaces include central administration, sensory rooms, learning kitchen/laundry, parent/faculty meeting room, library/resource room, gym/multi-purpose room, and a gross motor skills room. Planning for the future, the “smart” design allows for the easy addition of two villages to bring the total classroom count to 20. Understanding the important link to natural environments, each classroom directly accesses outdoor areas featuring playground equipment, tricycle paths, and natural play areas for a variety of experiences.
A series of spaces connect the new Early Childhood Center to the existing Prairie Elementary School and are used by both programs as well as the broader east Urbana community. These spaces include a gymnasium with stage, lobby/support space, and three fine arts classrooms. The unique connecting design element adds flexibility while lowering the initial costs compared to building separate facilities. High-performance sustainable features such as optimum daylighting of classrooms and corridors as well as ground source heating and cooling (geothermal) were utilized to lower operating costs. The interior design of the facility incorporates sustainable materials and finishes in a warm color palette to provide an aesthetically and acoustically pleasing environment.