NEWS

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November 21, 2008

Lab Schools architects selected for experience with sustainability, education projects

With the Laboratory Schools planning unprecedented expansion, the University announced last week that the architectural firms of Valerio Dewalt Train and FGM Architects had been selected to spearhead the renovations, drawing on their expertise with environmentally sustainable and educationally oriented projects, respectively. In addition to upgrading the quality of many of the schools’ decades-old buildings, the project will create an early childhood education center and new facilities for visual and theater arts.

According to David Greene, vice president for strategic initiatives and the chair of the architect selection committee, several prominent firms were approached about the contract before 10 submitted final proposals.

Valerio, based in Chicago, has won several American Institute of Architecture (AIA) honors, and FGM, from the Chicago-suburb Oak Brook, has received recognition for its educational construction projects.

Greene said that the choice for the two firms to work together was based on the large scope and complexity of the project.

“It’s a pretty comprehensive program in terms of improvement and expansion,” he said. “They’ve never had anything approaching this scale of expansion before. This would be the largest undertaking at Lab for sure, and one of the more significant projects at an independent school in the country.”

A chief reason for the expansion is the Lab Schools’ long-term goal to increase enrollment from roughly 1,700 students to about 2,000 students. This growth, according to Greene, will allow the school to keep pace with demand from the University community while continuing to draw from local neighborhood families.

“One of the things that the Lab School is very concerned about is that it will have a diverse mix of students and can attract a wide variety of students, and this will help with that,” Greene said.

The architects’ responsibilities will include promoting learning climates and environmental sustainability. Over 70 percent of FGM’s experience is in educational projects, and Valerio received the AIA’s 2007 Sustainable Design Award for the Kresge Foundation headquarters in Troy, MI. Among its features, the building incorporates a green roof and significant use of recycled materials.

“That was certainly one of the things that attracted us to Valerio is some of the interesting things that he’s done in sustainable design,” Greene said.

Greene added that because the designs remain in a conceptual stage, its specific sustainable features have yet to be determined. But he emphasized that a goal is to give environmentally friendly components of the project an educational value.

“One of the features that is important to us in addition to the direct benefit of having sustainable design is that there’s an indirect benefit in a school setting when students can see and learn from their sustainable environment. We wanted to make some of these features visible to students as a learning tool,” Greene said.

According to Greene, stressing environmentally friendly design at the Lab Schools is part of a larger University trend towards pursuing sustainable facilities.

“I think this is an issue that is very important to us,” he said. “We took very seriously the need to identify a person to come in as the University architect that had sustainable design experience when we hired Steve Wiesenthal [as associate vice president for facilities services and University architect]. So that was a priority from the beginning, trying to make sure we infuse those principals throughout that organization and as we think about capital projects in general.”

Under Wiesenthal’s direction, the University is seeking Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification for several projects, including the New Hospital Pavilion, the Logan Performing Arts Center, and Searle Chemistry Laboratory.