Source: The Republic
The ABC-Stewart Montessori School is looking to revamp or entirely replace its current building after 40 years in the same westside facility,
As school leaders consider the project, they have turned to another educational institution for insight: Indiana University’s J. Irwin Miller Architecture Program.
As part of an architectural studio class, first-year students have spent the semester conducting research, meeting with school stakeholders and coming up with concepts for the building project.
“This is the first architectural studio project in the five years we’ve existed that has taken on the design of a real project in the community,” said faculty member and community engagement coordinator Britt Brewer.
“We were very impressed to see all of the different visions that these students had,” said ABC-Stewart Director Stefanie Stafford.
She said that ABC-Stewart is “outgrowing” its current building at 6691 State Road 46 in Columbus, which has been the school’s home since 1983.
When ABC first got started in 1969, it was located in the basement of founder Merry Carmichael. According to Carmichael, the school moved to a building at the former Bakalar Air Force Base, now Columbus Municipal Airport, in 1971. Then, in 1977, the school moved into the World War II former Officers’ Club at Bakalar, which consisted of five buildings.
“In 1982, we were talking seriously about building a new building right there at Bakalar,” said Carmichael. “And so we had done a lot of groundwork regarding that when the old Kent School on (State Road) 46 became available. We moved there in ‘83.”
The three-unit former public school building was built in the 1950s.
Like Stafford, Carmichael said that ABC has “outgrown” the facility. She added that they are spending a lot on upkeep.
“It (the building) does not relate to really what the Montessori philosophy is, and it does not meet the full needs of all of our students,” said Stafford. Safety is also a concern.
Additionally, ABC-Stewart currently serves children ranging from 2 years old to sixth graders and would like to extend its offerings up to the eighth grade. The school is also considering adding an infant program, which would require more staffing and space.
As it is, the school’s classrooms for younger students are always at capacity, said Stafford.
The collaboration with the J. Irwin Miller program came about a couple of years ago, when the school was in early discussions about needing to plan for the future. At that time, an ABC-Stewart parent put Stafford in touch with Brewer.
After talking with the school’s building committee, Brewer decided to have third-year architecture students from the class of 2022 work with ABC-Stewart to make suggestions for an “architectural program” for the project.
An architectural program, he explained, is a definition of a client’s needs that guides the final building design.
“They were never going to have enough room to write a whole program for the school, but they could study Montessori,” said Brewer. “They could study the school and make some suggestions. And I would say the conclusion of their effort was one, understanding what a scope of the program for a school would be and what the primary focus would be, in terms of understanding Montessori and essentially to write you (ABC-Stewart) a letter to encourage you to develop a detailed program.”
Now, during the current project, first-year students are building off of the questions raised in that letter.
According to visiting assistant professor Spencer Steenblik, students looked at three types of proposals for the site:
- An adaptive reuse of the existing building
- A “phased scheme” where the current building is used by the school up until construction of a new facility
- A total blank slate, where the entire site is available for use without the “obstruction” of the current building being in place
“All three are potentially viable,” said Steenblik. “It’s just a matter of how much resources you want to push towards it. And we weren’t trying to solve the problem, per se. We were mostly trying to give ABC-Stewart a jumpstart on their architectural process.”
“Our dream big vision is to have a completely new building behind where our building sits now,” said Stafford. “We currently sit on 10 beautiful acres, so we would love to see something a little bit more back in our tree line, farther away from (State Road) 46 and allowing much more parking in front of the school, where the current building sits, if we were to have a new building.”
She added that if the school is able construct a new building, they will want to ensure it fits in with the “architectural beauty” of Columbus while also meeting the needs of Montessori instruction.
However, school officials are also considering renovating or adding to the current facility, depending on how much funding the school is able to raise.
“Tom Harmon is the father of two graduates of Stewart School,” said Stafford. “He and Taylor Brothers are assisting us in the process of figuring out what our structural needs are. If we are able to build new, or if we renovate our current structure, we will be working with Taylor Brothers.”
On May 3, the J. Irwin Miller program held a final, end-of-semester review for the class project, with students presenting their work to ABC-Stewart leadership.
George Kirton, a first-year architecture student from Newcastle, England, presented a concept for a phased construction project. His ideas focused on providing opportunities for students of different ages to mingle and emphasizing “the role of the natural world” in the school.
This included a “green” or “living” roof with plants such as grass and perennials growing atop the school.
“You have the opportunity for all types of life to take root up there,” he said.
“His living roof just blew us away,” said Stafford. “It definitely speaks to the Montessori Method. We like to incorporate nature as much as possible in our education. Children thrive in nature, and it only makes sense to bring as much of the outside world to them as possible.”
She added that another tenet of Montessori philosophy is that educators prefer their spaces to be “simplified” and natural, rather than overstimulating.
“That’s why if you ever visit a Montessori school, it’s usually pretty natural shades inside, all of the furniture and shelves are natural wood, and everything is completely to the child’s level,” she said. “It is their environment, not the adult’s environment. So each one of these students did a wonderful job of hitting on those needs.”
Kirton said it was an honor to participate in the project.
“This really was diving in the deep end for most of my class, and none of us drowned,” he said.
Students’ work on the project has been similar to the concept design phase on a building project, said Steenblik.
Brewer noted that there are seven students who worked on the project and therefore seven concepts. The group also worked collectively to create a draft document that will inform the school’s building project.
The current draft includes information on Montessori education, the school itself, the project site, previous architectural projects in Columbus and other Montessori architectural projects around the world.
The document summarizes students’ research on the project, said Steenblik. A final version will include their design proposals and should be ready in time for ABC-Stewart’s fall fundraiser.
When asked how early along the project is, Stafford replied, “In talking with builders and stakeholders, projected maybe the least amount, five years. Our first step is going to be our capital campaign launch, which will be Sept. 8.”
At that time, the school will hold a fundraising gala at the Henry Chateau in Columbus. According to the school’s website, this adult-only event, “An International Affair,” will include appetizers, a plated dinner, an open bar, entertainment, a raffle and a live auction.
Stafford said the school hopes to display much of the concepts and information provided by the J. Irwin Miller program during the gala.
“Anybody can come,” she said. “Anybody who has an interest in the future of Columbus and the education of our children right now can attend this event.”
Stafford said the school is looking at a price range of about $5 to $10 million for the building project.
“If they asked me today, I would tell them $13.5 (million),” said Brewer. “That would be my number. $5 to $10 (million), yes, we can work miracles, sometimes.”
Stafford said that the financial aspect of the project is a challenge, given that the school is a nonprofit with limited funds.
Another potential obstacle, she noted, is that ABC-Stewart is “the small school on the west side of town” that some people may not know much about.
“Forty years ago, the initiative was to start the school,” Brewer said. “But today, it’s to build the future of the school.”