Legat Architects pays tribute to Rob Wroble, one of its most prolific preK-12 educational designers, for three decades of making a difference for hundreds of schools … and thousands of students.
In the late nineties, New Lenox School District 122 acquired land from a developer. That land, however, was not ideal for the new school the district wanted to build — it had a 40-foot change in elevation. The district contacted its go-to architect Rob Wroble of Legat Architects. Wroble and his team responded with an Italian hillside village design concept, which transformed that steep slope liability into an asset.
The resulting Liberty Junior High School, completed in 2002, features two masses that curve down the hill, bridges that connect buildings, and a large courtyard. Each year, more than 600 students attend the 117,000-square-foot school.
Similar instances of overcoming educational facility hurdles have played out repeatedly during Wroble’s career. His work at more than 300 schools has propelled Legat’s reputation for preK-12 design and helped solidify its ranking among ENR Midwest’s 2023 Top 10 Education Design Firms within the 11-state region.
June 24, 2023 marks 30 years of Rob Wroble working with school communities, designing educational environments, and mentoring the next generation of school designers as an employee of Legat Architects.
“Rob has shown that a good idea can come from anyone: a team member, a community member, a teacher, a student,” said Legat design principal Ted Haug. “He’s all about making the right decision for a project. He always has a positive attitude, and he’s one of the most efficient workers I’ve ever seen.”
The firm appointed Wroble associate director of preK-12 education in 2010. In 2021, he was named a principal and a member of Legat’s board of directors. Last year, Wroble became director of Legat’s Oak Brook studio. Throughout these years, he has kept his focus on the best interest of his clients.
“Rob knows how to communicate with everyone from administrators and board members to facilities professionals and students,” said coworker Tyler Wade. “He operates on a reality that a lot of architects overlook: at the end of the day, the buildings aren’t ours — they’re our clients’.”
Wroble has a reputation for maintaining decades-long relationships with his school district clients. One such district is North Palos School District 117, which Wroble has served for 20 years.
“Rob is easy to work with and is good at taking my calls and answering my questions,” said North Palos District 117 Buildings & Grounds Director Dan Ford. “He puts in long hours and looks out for the best interest of the district. On the lighter side, he’s very adept at reading a set of drawings upside down.”
Harsh Lessons and Eradicating: Building a Technical Foundation
When he was an eighth grader at St. Bruno Catholic School on Chicago’s Southwest Side, Wroble drew a farmhouse with a wraparound porch for an art class assignment. His teacher was so impressed that she brought it to the local high school drafting teacher. The sketch came back to Wroble covered in red marks. The drafting teacher’s final score: 52 out of 100. Most children would have written off architecture as a career path; Wroble saw room for improvement, and he took it as a challenge.
“I never doubted that decision,” said Wroble.
Wroble’s father, a civil engineer who worked on Chicago’s famous Lakeshore Drive S-curve, stoked his interest in the technical side of architecture. As a child, he used cardboard boxes and Solo cups to build multistory parking garages for his Hot Wheels cars.
Wroble attended Marist High School, which at the time had few options for an aspiring architect. His only drafting class, taken his senior year, was taught by a head coach and a history teacher. That same year, Wroble won a regional drafting competition and went on to take third in the state. He then earned his Master of Architecture through the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s six-year program.
During college summers, Wroble did store planning for Sears, Roebuck and Company. For eight hours a day, he’d use a rag and a chemical called eradicator liquid to rub ink off parts of floor plans, then redraw them. He was happy to move on from that.
To Legat and Back
After graduating from the University of Illinois in 1991, Wroble sent his resume to nearly 75 architectural firms. He landed three interviews, one of which was at Legat.
Wroble started at the firm’s Schaumburg, Illinois studio (since merged with another studio) on June 24. There he formed relationships that would last for decades, and he might have even participated in some “epic rubber-band fights.” Though Wroble had learned AutoCAD while at university, computers had yet to sweep the architectural industry. The Schaumburg studio only had six IBM 386 PCs for twice as many employees. The first six people to arrive would beeline to the computers, and the rest would hand-draft.
In December 1992, Wroble transferred to Legat’s newly opened Oak Brook, Illinois studio, and in 1994, he departed Legat and joined a small firm in downtown Chicago.
Two years later, Wroble reached out to former Legat coworker Tom Kikta, who said that Legat was hiring. Jeffrey Sronkoski, then leader of Legat’s Oak Brook studio, invited Wroble in for a Saturday morning talk. After a two-hour conference room discussion, Wroble agreed to return to Legat. That was in 1996, and he continues to work in that studio to this day.
Falling into Education
When Wroble entered the professional community, he had no idea that his career would focus almost entirely on preK-12 school design; rather, he “fell into” educational design during his early days with Legat.
“In those days,” said Wroble, “the Oak Brook studio was all schools all the time.”
After managing smaller projects for New Lenox School District 122, Wroble took the reins for his first standalone school: the district’s Cherry Hill Kindergarten Center. This was the mid-’90s, and Illinois had few dedicated kindergarten centers to draw from. Wroble and his team developed four interior classroom “neighborhoods,” each of which was identified by a shape and a color.
The center, completed in 1998, went on to win an Award of Distinction from the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB) and an Award of Merit from the Association of School Business Officials (ASBO) International.
The neighborhood concept, groundbreaking at the time, has since been reproduced in schools throughout the country and in many of Wroble’s other projects.
Rob always has a positive attitude, and he’s one of the most efficient workers I’ve ever seen.Ted Haug,
Design Principal, Legat Architects
Following the Cherry Hill project, New Lenox Schools would entrust Wroble to lead the design of seven more new schools to keep pace with a 10-year growth spurt. During that decade, Wroble also managed the design of two more new schools for other districts for a total of eight new schools in 10 years.
“Rob understands the proper steps to take from the beginning of a project all the way through,” said Haug. “When he manages a project, all the bases get covered, and it finishes on time and on budget.”
The more entrenched Wroble became in school district communities, the more he enjoyed working with educators.
“The preK-12 community has always been so appreciative of what we do as architects. They understand the role that design plays in student performance and staff morale,” said Wroble.
Wroble is quick to credit his team members for his successes, and his devotion to his clients is matched only by his dedication to Legat. In the early 2000s, for instance, Wroble made frequent trips from his DuPage County, Illinois home to Legat’s Lake County studio to help with major educational projects.
“He never complained,” said Haug. “He just did it.”
Wading into the Field: Mentoring the Next Generation
Tyler Wade joined Legat’s Oak Brook studio right out of college. It wasn’t long before he was walking school project sites and attending construction meetings with Rob Wroble. The first year, Wroble led meetings and field reports, while Wade took notes and added to the reports. The next year, Wade took on the reports and contributed more during meetings. Today, Wade does the field reports and leads meetings.
“Rob would often ask my opinion on construction issues, and if I made an incorrect decision, he’d gently nudge me in the right direction,” said Wade. “He’s given me the knowledge and confidence to have a dialogue with clients and contractors without him being present.”
Wroble attributes his patience with less experienced staff to memories of his first educational project, during which he was “intimidated by having to draw wall sections.”
Another value that Wade learned from Wroble is a willingness to share project obstacles with coworkers. “If Rob runs into a problem on a project, he’ll bring it up during our studio meeting. ‘We ran into this. This is how we handled it. Look out for this on your projects.’ It makes the whole company better.”
The Culmination of Three Decades
Plans for A.E.R.O. Therapeutic Center, a 150,000-square-foot special education facility in Burbank, Illinois, called for a structural steel system. The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with a certain online retailer building massive warehouses, drastically reduced the steel supply. Sticking with structural steel would not only raise costs for the A.E.R.O. facility but also delay completion.
Project manager Rob Wroble and his team pivoted by specifying precast concrete for most of the building. The cost-effective 12-foot precast panels accelerated construction, and the concrete floors and roofs will dampen sounds from nearby railroad yards and from jets passing overhead — Midway Airport is just two miles from the school.
A.E.R.O. Therapeutic Center, the latest outcome of Wroble’s three decades at Legat, will set a standard for schools designed for students with disabilities and neurodiversities. And despite those steel shortages, it is slated to finish within budget and on time this summer.
All About the Students
In August of 2018, Rob Wroble experienced one of the most rewarding days of his career when he walked into his latest project: the new Laraway School in Joliet, Illinois. Ninety-eight percent of the students came from low-income families, and this was their first day in the facility. He watched as the kids reacted to the neighborhoods and their “front porch” entries, a curving limestone wall that connects the school’s two entrances, and a cafeteria with floor-to-ceiling windows displaying a courtyard.
“It was amazing seeing the kids’ faces as they interacted with the building for the first time,” he said. “They couldn’t believe that this school was for them. You can’t ask for a more rewarding experience!”
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