Forthcoming Hawthorn Elementary School South building projects designed during pandemic dodge costly site work, highlight robust arts program
When students return to Hawthorn Elementary School South (Vernon Hills, IL) after summer break in 2022, they will be greeted by a renewed setting where light, art, and nature unite. Abstracted tree canopies stretch over a new courtyard. Colorful corridors display student artwork and offer seating built into the walls. Randomly placed interior windows offer students glimpses into a new gym. Floor-to-ceiling glass fills art and music rooms with natural light.
It’s all part of an expansion and renewal of the 35-year-old school. The 18,000-square-foot addition brings new art, band, and music rooms, as well as the gym. More than 5,000 square feet in renovations include physical/occupational therapy rooms, breakout space, and a music room. The project, designed by Legat Architects, also overhauls all mechanical systems to reduce operations costs.
Ted Haug, lead designer at Legat, said, “The new and renovated spaces celebrate art and the collaborative creation process. Communal areas showcase student artwork, while art rooms open to a new courtyard with learning stations.”
“Hawthorn Elementary South could not be more excited for this much-needed renovation,” said Principal Christy Hunter. “The expansion enables us to have more teaching areas throughout the building, expands our nurse’s office, incorporates a sensory/occupational therapy room, provides more space for physical education and band/orchestra programs, creates beautiful classrooms for music and art, and updates our building entry so that it is more pronounced and secure. The renewal will be enjoyed by countless children, families, and staff for many years to come.”
Another feature of the Hawthorn Elementary School South project: it was designed during the COVID-19 pandemic. During virtual meetings, the Legat team took in staff input and modified the project in real time so that everyone had an opportunity to contribute to the design.
Construction is anticipated to start in March 2021 and finish in August 2022.
An Investment in Education
When another architect’s master plan suggestions proved too costly, Hawthorn School District 73 challenged Legat to design more affordable solutions. The resulting arts and gymnasium expansions avoid more than $500,000 in site changes.
Haug said, “We wanted to make sure that the money the district was spending on the building focused first and foremost on the educational experience for the student.”
The initial master plan recommended expanding into areas including vehicular drives, a parking lot, and critical infrastructure (i.e., building transformer, service utilities). Haug and team proposed an alternate plan. Instead of encroaching on these areas, the revised plan locates the additions on a hard play area to the north of the building. The district plans to put gates around a bus drop-off area on the west side—when the buses are gone, this area can be locked off for student play.
Additionally, since the district’s budget prevented much-needed orchestra and band spaces, Haug designed a uniquely programmed fitness area. Located adjacent to the gym, it functions as both a music space and athletic area.
Light, Nature, Views
Hawthorn Elementary School South, built in 1986, lacks the amenities and daylight of many younger schools in the region.
Thanks to window walls and clerestories (i.e., rows of windows near the ceiling), natural light fills the new and revived spaces. Additionally, students have many more outdoor views supported by a nature-inspired color scheme and materials palette.
A “stream” of blue meanders through the corridor flooring and leads to a new courtyard, where the stream becomes swirls of water painted on the concrete. The courtyard, visible from many interior areas, is a haven for creativity, collaboration, and nature. Students in art rooms can even walk directly into the courtyard. It offers a chalkboard, easels, and a fence on which students can clip art.
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