A Community Hub For Learners and Families

Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School

Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School designed by LSW Architects for Vancouver Public Schools in Vancouver, Washington.

Overview

Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School (referred to as King Elementary by staff and students) is a community pillar that serves children from preschool to 5th grade. The 68,000 sf building is punctuated by a variety of engaging, playful spaces that bring the school’s robust curriculum and extracurricular program together. 

Key Stats

Client

Vancouver Public Schools

Square Footage

68,000

Completion

2020

Student Capacity

430

Classrooms

38

Context

When a new building for King Elementary was included in a 2017 bond measure, staff and students leapt at the opportunity to provide insight and input in the redesign of their school.

Planned and executed in close collaboration with student representatives, teachers, staff, and District stakeholders, the team began by imagining ways to empower its pre-K to grade 5 students through nurturing, accessible spaces, flexible learning environments, and lively gathering points. Drawing from this set of goals, the design team poured these ideas into a design that would embrace students, families, teachers, and invite all to make lasting memories at King Elementary.

The resulting school is a central feature within one of Vancouver’s most economically challenged and emerging neighborhoods, represented by a diverse and historically underserved population. King Elementary provides an inclusive, equity-focused environment that aims to empower students in pre-K through grade 5 through its progressive curriculum. 

King Elementary Video

Design

Divided into two wings, one side of the school is dedicated to active learning and the arts; this includes the commons area, kitchen, dance, music, and fine arts spaces. The accompanying wing is dedicated to classrooms and learning studios that are bolstered by a social and emotional support network within the school system. These elements are enhanced by a strong design that creates a safe, energizing environment that stimulates creativity and a healthy connection to nature.

The main entrance on the north side of the building is marked by a meandering, sensory gravel path that weaves between quaking aspen and is canopied by catenary twinkle lights. The pathway serves as a more contemplative approach to the school, with several benches and moments of pause sprinkled along it. Within the vestibule, the entry to the FCRC looks straight onto this path, as if creating a welcome sign. This alignment speaks to the core of King Elementary’s equity goals, which focus on eliminating barriers and destigmatizing the use of essential services.

The following core themes capture the educational goals for King Elementary, and provided guiding principles for the design to follow:  

A Community Hub that Feels Like Home

  • Comfortable, warm, and inviting

  • Builds trust, safety, and respect

  • Has strong support for physical, social, and emotional needs

A Place to Celebrate Diversity

  • Playful and fun

  • Welcomes and represents the rich variety of cultures in the community

  • Provides a place for gathering and connection

Inspire Student Aspirations

  • Pilot school for AVID

  • Nurtures students, provides for unmet needs, and builds a foundation for lifetime success

  • Empowers students with extraordinary opportunities

Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School group work space with acoustic and visual controls, designed by LSW Architects.
Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School group work space with acoustic and visual controls, designed by LSW Architects.
Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School group work space with acoustic and visual controls, designed by LSW Architects.

Spatial Variety and Flexibility

The programmatic layout of the school is structured to create many opportunities for interaction between students and staff, with flexible spaces that accommodate various group sizes as well as gradations of acoustic and visual privacy. Classrooms have operable walls that can be opened for team teaching and collaboration, as well as sliding glass doors that open to collaboration space in CO-OP studios.

Acoustically separate focus space is provided in each CO-OP, where small group work can happen more independently but still be monitored by staff. Additional break-out nooks and alcoves on the edges of the space allow for students to choose if they want to be in the center of action or observe from the periphery. CO-OPs can be opened to the outdoor learning courtyard, discovery gardens, and large canopy trees, which provide additional zones of learning.

Unique within the school district, King Elementary houses a pre-K and kindergarten program. Classrooms to support these students are located within the main classroom wing and adjacent to supporting functions like the media center, music and art rooms, and Commons. Pre-K students have their own outdoor play area, located directly outside their classrooms and next to the larger playground. This relationship allows younger students to interact and observe older students, and also gives them choice in when they want to be adventurous or cautious. Additionally, these specialized classrooms include their own single-user restroom.

On both floors, the special education classrooms are located on the northeast edge of the CO-OP. Stakeholders identified the importance of meeting student needs without isolating them. The placement of this classroom and associated support space allows students with special needs to be in the mix, and included with the general population, while also having the ability to create more acoustic or visual privacy as needed.

LSW Architects designed the exterior of Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School to

Sustainability

The design for King Elementary meets the requirements for the Washington Sustainable Schools Protocol (WSSP). In addition, it was important to staff and students to expand on these features in ways that enhance the user-experience and honor the landscape. Below are a few examples that capture the school’s commitment to a sustainable program, as filtered through LSW’s key sustainability benchmarks:

Operational Energy 

  • HVAC Systems include digital controls that are Occupancy controlled with demand control ventilation and that are responsive to the operable windows 

  • All site lighting was designed to be kept onsite through the use of LED fixtures and has been designed to meet the requirements of WSSP

  • Optimal electric light quality has been designed to allow for different switching combinations in conjunction with daylighting controls

Human Health 

  • Enrichment-tools to teach healthy living: movement, mental health (contemplation and introspection), eating (garden beds)

  • Facility includes an exposed interior roof and floor structure and an exterior courtyard roof drainage system as a design display water landscape feature

  • The playground is 100% accessible, including accessible swings. In the nature play area, an ADA sandtable and garden planters invite people of all abilities to participate

  • A high-efficiency mechanical system, low VOC finishes, and operable windows in every classroom were strategies used to meet indoor air quality goals

Resource Conservation 

  • Exterior courtyard roof drainage system

  • A butterfly garden connects students with native habitat and stages of development

  • ADA planter beds tie botany curriculum to seasonal plantings

  • Bioswales are used to discuss storm water filtration and connect to the health of local streams and salmon

To read more about sustainability at LSW, download our Sustainability Action Plan.

"It’s such a unique building and it’s so great to be here. Everyone who comes to visit says that it just feels comfortable, which I think is a win for architecture."

Whitney Henion

Capital Projects Lead | ALEP

Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School designed by LSW Architects for Vancouver Public School in Vancouver, Washington.