Tyler Leeds / The Bulletin

The Bend-La Pine Schools board on Tuesday approved a contract for the design of an elementary school that is set to provide a new model for the district.

The contract was awarded to Steele Associates Architects, who previously designed Sisters High School and the Central Oregon Community College Crook County campus. The firm was selected from five proposals by a committee of three Bend-La Pine staff members and board members Nori Juba and Peggy Kinkade. The construction of the school will be funded by a $96 million bond that will also provide the district with various safety improvements and a new middle school.

“It was an easy choice making this selection,” Kinkade said. “They presented intriguing ideas and a design we may use into the future.”

The district has used a prototype elementary school design over the past two decades. The board approved a contract that allows the design of a school based on the current prototype for $860,200 or a new design that builds upon the old standard for $1,159,400.

“It’s true that the consensus seems to be to go with a new design,” Kinkade said.

Scott Steele, the eponymous president of the selected architecture firm, is the principal architect on the project. A graduate of Bend High School, he is excited to contribute the design of a school to his community.

“It’s incredible to be in your hometown and get to do something as important as a school,” he said.

Steele praised the old prototype design, noting that “it served a great purpose,” but also acknowledging a lot has changed in the last 20 years, requiring an update.

“With all the tragedies that have been happening, there’s been changes in what constitutes a safe school,” he said.

Steele said improvements will be made to reduce the number of blind spots in the school layout and to increase the ability of administrators to survey large number of students at one time.

There has also been a shift toward decreasing the number of access points, which will be reflected in the design.

“Despite these changes, there’s still going to be a lot that’s not going to change,” Steele said. “There will still be a cafe-torium, which combines a cafeteria and auditorium; that’s not going to change. There’s still going to be classroom pods; that won’t change. It will programmatically be the same thing.”

Classroom pods are clusters of classrooms around a shared space. They facilitate team-teaching at the various grade levels.

One of Steele’s goals that was echoed by board members is to design a more efficient elementary school.

“We can create efficiency by decreasing circulation space and putting that back into teaching space,” Steele said.

This change would allow the building to retain the same footprint size while having more space devoted to teachers and students. It would also reduce the amount of hallway space administrators have to keep an eye on for mischievous students.

Another area targeted for improvement is access to daylight.

“In the old prototype, access to views for the administrators and special needs students is very poor,” Steele said. “No one wants to be in a dark area, it’s just uncomfortable.”

The design process is just beginning, and Steele emphasized it will be a collaborative effort with the district. The goal is to create a model that, much like the last prototype, can endure for many years.

“It will need to be flexible and able to handle change,” Steele said. “Teaching and technology will change over time, that’s for sure.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2160, tleeds@bendbulletin.com