Center Grove’s newest elementary school is a vision for learning
Writer / Brian Proctor, Walnut Grove Elementary School Principal
Center Grove Schools will open its first new school in 13 years when Walnut Grove Elementary welcomes students on August 6. It’s thoughtfully designed to utilize every inch of space while creating a fun and engaging learning environment for students of today and tomorrow. Our mission is to inspire learning and creative thinking while being functional and fiscally responsible. We are especially proud that through the careful planning of our Board of School Trustees and leadership team, the funds used for this school did not impact the tax rate for White River Township residents.
To accomplish these goals and fulfill our mission for this new school, we did a lot of research and enlisted our talented staff. It has been a transformational journey to understand how a learning environment can best help students learn and educators teach. Lancer+Beebe, LLC synthesized and refined these ideas to create a beautiful building that is both functional and built to sustain the changing educational environment.
Function, Flexibility, and Fun
Walnut Grove boasts 38 classrooms spanning two floors. Grades are grouped into three communities, complete with shared spaces to encourage collaborative learning across the grade-level.
The next step was to connect the physical pieces of the building. Special classes like Music, Art, and Physical Education are positioned away from classrooms. This reduces the potential distraction that can come from students changing rooms. Specials are also clustered near the cafeteria to reduce interference with another grade level transitioning to lunch. The building design connects spaces through colors, rather than words, to remain timeless. The colors, inspired by the seasons, coordinate with designs on the floor to allow for easy navigation. Kindergarten and Grade 1 feature green to represent spring. Grades 2 and 3 are red for fall. Grades 4 and 5 are yellow for summer. Special classes are blue for winter. The colors are also reflected in eight murals inside the building that depict the establishment of Indiana, points of interest, and other educational components connected to Indiana.
Flexibility is essential for today’s learners. Walnut Grove’s design creates a learning environment that blends structure with the ability to adapt the space as needed. Over the last year, Center Grove piloted flexible seating and furniture in classrooms in each school to determine what to purchase for Walnut Grove. We also piloted new technology, including smart boards that connect with student devices. Because bids from the Walnut Grove Project came in below estimates, Center Grove is using leftover funds to outfit all elementary classrooms in the district.
Walnut Grove has some unique features that are new to Center Grove, inspired by our research of innovative learning spaces around the country. An Innovation Lab will provide a flexible space for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) lessons that are not conducive to a typical classroom. The Innovation Lab can be easily adapted to meet future needs. For example, if robotics became a standard that students have to learn in 10 years, we can adapt that space to meet that need. There are also Learning Risers that will be used for classes or even entire grade levels to come together for large group instruction. One of the most talked-about features, the Success Slide, will be used as a reward for student achievement.
Safe & Secure
Student safety is a top priority in the design of Walnut Grove. Safe zones are designated throughout the building. Six large group areas and seven smaller group areas will provide a safe location during severe weather. A secure main entrance will require visitors to be screened before being allowed into the building. The parking lots surrounding the school are designed to separate bus traffic and visitors. The long lane that leads to the school can accommodate approximately 115 cars, which should keep student drop-off traffic from backing up onto Morgantown Road. Other safety features for the school will not be publicized.
Walnut Grove will be the first Center Grove school to utilize solar energy, along with a geothermal system. An array of solar panels installed on the school grounds will produce enough energy to offset as much as a third of the electricity being used by the building. Solar power will also be used to heat the building’s water. To reduce energy costs further, the building is designed to utilize natural light through windows and solar tubes in the hallways. Studies have shown that natural light helps reduce eye strain. Students will have the ability to track the building’s energy usage via a display on monitors inside the main entrance of the building.
Walnut Grove sits on 57.5 acres of land off of Morgantown Road, approximately one mile south of State Road 144. This is a more rural area of White River Township. Landscaping around the school reflects a “prairie theme” which utilizes grasses and plants native to the area. This theme reduces maintenance costs while preserving the habitats of wildlife in the area.
Walnut Grove is designed to have a reduced paper footprint. Hand dryers are installed with the restroom sinks. Each classroom has one bulletin board, designed to encourage a reduction of paper on the walls. The school’s media center (or library) is a mix of digital and paper materials. iPads preloaded with books specific to each grade level will be available for students to check out.
We invite the community to an Open House on Saturday, August 3 from 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. A dedication ceremony is planned for 1:30 p.m. It’s located at 4079 S. Morgantown Rd. For more information, visit centergrove.k12.in.us/WGES or centergrove.k12.in.us/SchoolLocator.