Classroom innovation


In eastern Idaho, one small rural school recently gained international fame. In late July, the Teton Valley Community School of Victor, Idaho, was recognized as one of eight finalists in the 2009 Open Architecture Challenge: Classroom. The competition, sponsored by Architecture for Humanity, received 400 submissions from 65 countries.

Finalists included two other U.S. teams as well as teams from Colombia, India and the U.K. The winning team, to be announced in September, will be awarded $5,000 dollars and the partnering school will receive $50,000 to carry out the design.

Cindy Riegel, a parent and president of the board of directors at the Teton Valley Community School, said that the independent non-profit school has combated space issues since opening in 2001. With roughly 50 students in grades K-7, the school is currently located in renovated houses (see video). “Each year it seemed like we were doing piecemeal or Band-Aid additions to the classrooms,” said Riegel.

The Teton Valley suffers from a combination of lack of school funding and recent exponential growth. Lots of teachers live in Victor but work in nearby Jackson, said Riegel, where they can earn double the salary because Wyoming diverts oil and gas royalties into education funding (which HCN covered in 2005).

For their design, local architects Emma Adkisson and Nathan Gray of Section Eight Design focused on combining elements from rural Western architecture—built “simply and beautifully” with environmentally sustainable materials. The new school, built using straw bales and corrugated metal, would gain passive solar heat from a greenhouse and tromve (a concrete thermal mass) and use a cistern to collect snow and rainwater. Adkisson and Gray collaborated with students and teachers to create a building designed to serve the needs of both the school and surrounding community.

Even if the school doesn’t win, there’s a good chance TVCS will benefit from the competition anyway, said Riegel. “What’s interesting is that Architecture for Humanity is really interested in getting all eight finalists’ renovations built. They want to help us whether we win the $50,000 or not.”