Ehrman Crest Elementary and Middle School
Architecture firm: CannonDesign
Owner: Seneca Valley School District
Location: Cranberry Township, Pa.
Project site: Not previously developed
Building program type(s): Education - K-12 school
This new school for the Seneca Valley School District near Pittsburgh explores the intersection of elementary schools and children’s museums in the differing approaches both institutions take to inspiring children and activating learning. Informed by community input throughout the planning process, the school prioritizes learning through an array of experiences, similar to the ways in which children engage with museum exhibits.
The school district and the team closely collaborated with the senior director of creative experiences at the Children’s Museum in Pittsburgh, and the result is an innovative space for learning that presents students with a broad range of compelling and joyful experiences. Unlike other projects with specific rooms and spaces that mimic a museum, this project has embedded the concept throughout the entire school.
Ehrman Crest differs from traditional schools, where classrooms and assembly spaces direct the type of learning and interactions students will engage in, by embracing a much more thoughtful approach to flexibility. A particular standout of the school’s design is its focus on supporting students within the same area, whether that calls for academic focus or emotional rest. Much more than a compilation of moveable walls and furniture, the school is a truly flexible environment that allows everyone within to feel comfortable throughout periods of change.
“There’s enough whimsy here that is great for the school, but it still remains a serious education environment. I would have been lucky to get to go to a school like this.” - Jury comment
Each of the school’s grade-level spaces are organized into communities, which consist of classrooms, peg walls, and open spaces. A theme of equity courses throughout; spaces were designed to support students of all learning levels and abilities, ensuring they feel safe and comfortable enough to learn by taking risks. Additionally, as the landscape of education has shifted significantly over the past several years and technology has become increasingly important, many lessons best conveyed through tactile methods endure. The school’s prominent peg walls, handheld modules, and magnetic map wall graphics remain critical teaching tools.
A fluid programming structure influences learning, play, and collaboration among students throughout the building, encouraging imaginations to flourish while instilling critical thinking skills that will spur the pursuit of lifelong learning. The design also incorporates the outdoors into the school’s curriculum and daily activities. By leveraging and building upon the site’s existing natural features, the design provides outdoor access from each of the school’s wings and across both floors, offering impromptu outdoor learning and engagement with the landscape.
Ehrman Crest is a prime example of what can be possible when a school district is willing to take a risk creating a new type of school. By adopting the strategies of a museum, the school has set a new paradigm for learning and design that will no doubt influence future elementary education spaces.