Ludington Area School District was looking to consolidate their three elementary schools into one new, centralized facility due to aging buildings that would have required significant renovations. As part of the planning process, our team collaborated with the district and the community through an extensive two-day Design Workshop to develop initial concepts and establish Guiding Principles for the project. School staff, board members, and community members conducted visioning exercises around the student experience they wanted to create in this new facility. The workshops also created cohesion among the teams and staff of the three buildings who were coming together into one, generating empathy among all participants for each other’s perspectives and vision for the community. Many of the teachers and staff from the different schools had never met, and the workshop helped to build camaraderie and collaboration among staff for creating spaces and curriculum together–genuinely putting learning and the student experience at the heart of the project. As education continues to evolve, it was important for the design to be efficient and adaptable and provide a flexible place to inspire growth and stimulate education for the present and the future.

The existing buildings were over 50 years old, and not only did Ludington aim to bring the district into the 21st century, they took a forward-looking approach to push the envelope in facilities and classroom design for future teaching and learning models. The approach was to create more than a school building, but a learning ecosystem within the community.

Recognizing that learning doesn’t only happen in the classroom, but also in other spaces like media centers, outdoor areas, and hallways, Ludington recognized that the current school environments were limiting the opportunities for staff to be innovative as it relates to teaching and learning. The team designed the new elementary school spaces to be flexible and transitionally appropriate for each age group, as well as accommodating for learning in every space.

This new facility creates a hub for the community, fostering inclusion and encouraging relationship building that promotes a sense of community pride. The Ludington community also wanted a place for the surrounding community to gather and for the building to serve not only as a learning facility, but also as a community amenity. Large-volume spaces like the cafeteria and gym accommodate events outside of school hours and nestling the facility in the surrounding forest with bike trails, outdoor play areas, a disc golf course, and access to restrooms created an opportunity for the community to use the entire property like a park.

Consolidating three elementary schools under one roof, at 155,000 square feet, this project is many times larger than the previous buildings. While a consolidated campus can seem quite massive, the GMB team deployed an innovative design to break down the classroom wings into smaller, grade-level centered neighborhoods that feel more approachable to an elementary student. All of the shared amenities and special programs are organized along a center spine that connects all the neighborhoods together, creating a clear wayfinding path and circulation loop around the building. Through a planning and architectural design lens, the scale of every element and space was thoughtfully considered for the students and teachers inhabiting the building. Technically, there are no corridors in the entire building, as everything is considered an extended learning area, yet compartments are thoughtfully broken down and egressing and exiting occurs in a natural flow.

Student safety was a focus for this new facility therefore we designed the site and building to have layers of security measures while continuing to reinforce a welcoming community that supports the whole child. The entire building is equipped with electronic hardware (no keys) at all occupied spaces allowing for more efficient access control and monitoring and the building can be locked down with the push of a button. Each neighborhood is also equipped with a set of security doors that can be locked down as another layer of protection as well as other strategically placed security doors that don’t impede on building egress. Transparency between classrooms and adjacent extended learning areas is limited to allow for shelter in place, and is used strategically to allow for classroom monitoring when needed and supporting psychological safety and connection.

The opening of Ludington Elementary School has been an amazing experience for our staff, students, and community! We are beyond fortunate to be able to provide our students with the best education in state-of-the-art facilities. Uniting four buildings into one has allowed greater opportunities for professional collaboration across the various grade levels as well as the opportunity to foster peer mentoring and buddy classrooms. While Ludington has always been a desired place to work, as educators, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to work in a brand new building. We thank our community for supporting the education of its students!

Katie Eisinger, Ludington Elementary School Principal