Contemporary Learning

Welby Community School

Denver, CO

Welby Community School, ECE – 6th grade, is part of the Mapleton School District, located on the North side of Denver in the Welby neighborhood.  The original school was constructed in the 1960’s, and in the last fifty years steadily outgrew it’s intended size. The existing school has a direct relationship to the history and growth of the community that surrounds it as many members of the staff matriculated through the school, and have children that attend today.  The unique opportunity with this project was to create a renovation that provided a contemporary learning environment, and an addition that met the District’s long standing needs for physical education, arts, and science programming.  HPA’s design provided six new classrooms, a new gym, cafeteria, and state of the art music room; programming that was previously layered into one multi-purpose room due to lack of space.  Utilizing brick as the primary building material, the architecture of the addition sought to honor the existing building through form and materiality.

Over a four month period, our design team worked intimately with School staff and District administration through a series of Design Advisory Group (DAG) meetings to ensure all goals and needs were addressed. As a team, we arrived at the concept of “habitats” as an organizing tool to guide the work.  This concept had a direct reference to the expeditionary learning philosophy of the Mapleton School District, and made a connection to the native plants and animals that live around the campus.

The site and landscape design was instrumental in connecting the campus to the school and provided a direct relationship to nature that supported the habitat concept.  A new playground was designed for ECE students that connects directly to their learning spaces.  A large playground for the entire student body links the school to a new soccer field on the South side of the campus.

The building provides a new entry that adds a secure checkpoint and new administrative space.  As one proceeds through the entry there is a direct line of site through the central lobby to a new green house with storefront windows featuring the schools agricultural/ ecological curriculum.  From the main lobby one moves through a set of doors into the “habits” which are organized sequentially:

Subterranean:    ECE – 1st Grade

Forest:              Library – Kindergarten

Prairie:              2nd Grade – 3rd Grade

Sky:                 4th Grade – 6th Grade

Due to topographic change, the site required significant storm water management which we saw as an opportunity to create an educational experience.  Through a partnership with the National Park Service and the School District, we utilized the civil and landscape design to create an interpretive nature walk that incorporated the site retention ponds with the existing natural elements present on the site.