Students at Heard Elementary School are having a say in the design of the space that they and future students will learn in for years to come.
Representatives from the German architectural firm Behnisch are wrapping up a two-week visit to Bibb County. At their request, selected classes of first- and second-graders used cardboard, pipe cleaners, fabric and other materials to help design their ideal learning space.
Some students made traditional classrooms more comfortable with beanbag chairs. Others chose to move beyond the confines of four walls, preferring to learn in barns or near fishing ponds. One student envisioned himself hanging upside down in a jungle.
The project is part of an effort by Bibb school officials to make progress on building a new Heard Elementary, something that has been in the works for about 10 years.
The school district has budgeted about $14 million in sales tax proceeds to rebuild the nearly 80-year-old school on Houston Road, said Brenda Stokes, Bibb Countys director of construction. The school is expected to be completed within two years.
School officials tried to rebuild Heard before, after voters approved the project as part of a 2005 education sales tax initiative. That project was eventually scrapped, however, to make up for higher costs on other projects.
Weve been waiting a long time, Heard Principal Sandra Stanley said.
Jill Kaehler, who works in Behnischs Stuttgart, Germany, office, and Gavin Ruedisueli, with the firms Boston office, have been at Heard as part of a research project exploring the ways space can be used to enhance learning.
The firm has designed single-family homes, community towers and three American universities. Behnisch hasnt done any other work in American elementary schools, but it has been building them in Germany for decades, said Kaehler, who has American and German ties.
For me, education has been something very important for my family, she said. You can do whatever you want in life as long as you receive an education.
Kaehler came to Macon after connecting with Wesleyan College professor Pat Pritchard, with both sharing an interest in the way physical space impacts learning.
Wednesday night, the Behnisch representatives will discuss their work at 6:30 p.m. at Wesleyans Benson Room.
The Behnisch representatives have been meeting with teachers and community members too. Kaehler said it is important that everyone with a school connection have a chance to be heard before building gets under way.
This is not something you work on in an architects office for two months and say This is your school. You need to have input every step of the way, Kaehler said.
The Behnisch representatives will also host a public meeting about the project in Heards auditorium Thursday at 6 p.m., where they will share the input that students, teachers and others have provided.
Visits yield other insights
Kaehler and Ruedisueli, in turn, will share their findings with SP Design Group, the local architects who are working on the new school. Behnischs work is not costing the district any money, Stokes said.
School officials have been making other preparations for the Heard project. In February, they visited the Georgia Department of Educations Center for Classroom Innovation, a model educational space where educators across the state can get ideas for building classrooms.
The model included equipment that showed 3-D videos of antibiotics in the body, a broadcast room and seating that would allow students to work in small and large groups.
The physical setup of a classroom can have a major impact on the way students learn class material, Stokes said.
I think this is the way kids are going to learn. This is how they do learn nowadays, Stokes said. They dont line up in rows and listen to a teacher all day long.
Bibb employees also visited Springdale Park Elementary, a school in the heart of Atlanta that has its own rooftop garden.
Springdale Park has incorporated historic buildings into its modern school, and those involved in designing and building a new Heard school have to take its own setting and history into account, Stokes said.
Many of the community members who have provided input want elements of the old school incorporated into the new one.
Some possibilities include building a walkway at the new building with bricks from the old one, as well as building a room dedicated to Heards history, Kaehler and Stanley said.
Having that input is crucial to plans for Heard, which has had strong neighborhood support for decades.
This is such a strong community, Stanley said. To me theyve always had input in the school. We want to include them. We want them to participate.
Stanley is also enthusiastic about the progress toward finally breaking ground for the new Heard.
I think everyone heres excited -- were finally getting a new school, she said. I wish it would open next month. Then wed be happy.
To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.