Spokane Journal of Business

Glover design reimagines middle school experience

Spaces support senses of discovery, inclusion

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Spokane Public Schools planned to replace three aging middle schools and add three new ones to address outdated ones. Once the new schools were complete, sixth grade would transition districtwide from elementary school into the new middle schools, resulting in smaller class sizes at the elementary level.

SPS seized this opportunity to reimagine the middle school experience with the realization of this effort coming to life with the September opening of Glover Middle School, at 2330 W. Longview, in northwest Spokane.

Glover’s existing culture among students and staff is strong and well established. It was foundational to the staff and administrators that students are met on their level, dedicating spaces to keep students in school, supporting them socially and emotionally while also keeping them on track academically. How would a new facility further enhance and support this student-centered approach? How could the built environment continue to elevate each student, allowing them to find opportunities for support and success? With these questions in mind, the design process focused on the student experience through design principles that emerged from a series of activities, community conversations, and input.

Greg Forsyth, SPS director of capital projects, says one priority in planning the $43.5 million, 135,000-square-foot project was to look at middle school through the lens of the student.

“We want to bring up the long-term relationships that the elementary school staff and students,” Forsyth says. “We need our students and staff to look at their learning in a new collaborative way.”

Place for Everyone

The materials and scale of the building evoke feelings of warmth, provide variety, and reflect the community both in planning and in the physical design. A wide variety of spaces within the school offer students the opportunity to find the spaces that are right for them throughout the school day. Whether that space is an overlook into the commons, an open, more social learning stair for socializing, or outside in the student play areas, there is a place for everyone. The planning and design of Glover continually reinforce a sense of discovery and inclusion.

The concept of discovery resonated with the design committee and became the core planning element. The committee agreed the building needed to spark a sense of exploration for every student. To encourage students to explore and connect with various programs throughout the school, windows are strategically placed to provide glimpses into all academic, student support, and outdoor learning environments.

The sense of discovery for students begins when they enter the school. Students and visitors move through the student plaza, with large rocks interspersed with seating areas into the main commons. 

The main entry and student entry are scaled to create comfortable experiences for middle school students and their families—the goal was to ensure everyone felt welcome and included within the building. The building design was inspired by the Bowl and Pitcher geologic feature in nearby Riverside State Park. 

Students move through the school on a central path, similar to how the Spokane River meanders through the rock formations at the Bowl and Pitcher. On the path, students navigate around brick volumes that house learning areas. Dark textured brick represents local basalt boulders, and lighter brick represents reflections from the forest.

Throughout the commons, specialty classroom spaces, such as art, music, and technology, allow students to observe a variety of activities, possibly even piquing their interest to participate in programs they may not have explored otherwise. As students continue moving through the space, they pass a large stair where they can sit, eat lunch, and come together for formal instruction, performances, and assemblies. 

Farther down the path, students find a quiet space called the Learning Commons, with six academic neighborhoods branching from this central space. Close to the learning commons and each neighborhood is a counseling center—a welcoming space with easy access to encourage students to connect with support services available to them.

Continuing to draw upon nature, natural light is prevalent throughout the building. The shape of the building was deliberate to continually provide views to the outdoors. An internal courtyard brings light into spaces deep within the building and serves as an outdoor learning environment.

Academic Neighborhoods

The six academic neighborhoods house the core academic spaces. These neighborhoods contain learning spaces for general education such as English, history, and math, along with a learning suite outfitted for science. Each room is connected to a central collaboration space with operable walls. Glass in the walls allows the neighborhoods to be connected visually when acoustical separation is needed, and the doors are closed.

Connection and community are key to the design. Shared space allows for more personal one-on-one relationships within the neighborhood community, minimizing travel time for students between classes.

Neighborhood design and function translates into more time for learning while fostering opportunities for continued academic, social, and emotional support.

Accessible Services

Throughout the school, counselors and administrators are located within close access and proximity of students. During the planning and design effort, it was critical to remove all physical or perceived barriers for students to receive their support.

This includes aspects such as incorporating middle school-appropriate play structures in the student plaza area. The student plaza, various courtyard spaces near the commons, and learning commons, along with playfield areas, encourage students to engage in physical activity and provide additional learning environments. These outdoor spaces also serve as a community amenity not previously available in the Glover neighborhood.

Mark Lund, principal at Glover Middle School, says, “Our focus was to ensure that each space creates a sense of unconditional belonging and access for all students. At every turn we asked ourselves, ‘How do we make sure students feel connected and truly noticed?’”

An additional feature of the school is the Family and Community Resource Center. Located at the main entrance, the FCRC provides meeting space for families independent of the administrative suite. Outside organizations are also encouraged to use this space for food and clothing distribution. The shared room supports the whole child and family to ensure their basic needs are met and students can focus on learning.

The reimagined Glover Middle School, which was constructed by the Spokane office of Jackson Contractor Group Inc., realizes the goals SPS identified when presented with this opportunity to discover a new way to deliver middle school education and support communities.

The building embodies the student-centered culture of the Glover staff and administration, enhancing their ability to strengthen that culture and deliver experiences that foster both belonging and access for generations to come.

Melissa McFadgen is a principal architect at the Spokane office of NAC Architecture, and Rod Rada is a senior associate and design architect, also at the Spokane office of the firm.

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