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Ehrman Crest Elementary/Middle School to open next month

The new Ehrman Crest Elementary/Middle School in Cranberry Township was designed and built from scratch over a two and a half year period. The facility, which $63 million, was opened to media and school personnel for a sneak peak Tuesday. Cary Shaffer/Butler Eagle

CRANBERRY TWP — Those planning to visit the new $63 million Ehrman Crest school in the Seneca Valley School District can throw out any previous notions of what a new elementary/middle school should look like, because every square inch of the innovative building has been designed with students, creativity, curiosity and learning in mind.

School district officials and architects from CannonDesign offered tours of the school Tuesday morning to members of the media as workers completed finishing touches.

The Y-shaped, 200,000-square-foot school was purposely built into the rolling topography of the 150-acre grounds off Ehrman Road so classes on the second floor can go outside without going downstairs and so student views are of nature.

Also, mounds and small hills around the school can provide outdoor learning spaces for students, who will be in kindergarten through sixth grade.

“They really took advantage of the topography,” said Sean McCarty, assistant superintendent.

Project architect, Jeremy Dwyer, of CannonDesign on Tuesday explains that the lighting at the front entrance of the Ehrman Crest Elementary/Middle School in Cranberry Township is meant to match the night sky in the fall. Dwyer said the facility features many built in opportunities for students to learn and ask questions. Cary Shaffer/Butler Eagle
Gated bus loop

Students being dropped off by parents do so in the front of the school, and the bus loop in the rear is entirely gated during arrival and dismissal.

A grassy area in the bus loop allows for play space, bounce houses or extra parking during special events.

Learning at the school begins at the front entrance, where inset lights are arranged in the overhang to match the constellation of major stars visible in the night sky on or near the first day of school each year.

Columns holding up the overhang have tags that denote how much weight they are holding, and “rain chains” allow rainwater to cascade down a chain under the overhang to pique student curiosity about weather and gravity.

Instead of painted block in sterile sets of stairways, a huge spiral ramp to the second floor’s kindergarten and first-grade wing greets those entering the building, with a regular stairway to one side.

John Ewing, 57, of Butler, moves furniture Tuesday to the common area at the end of one of the grade wings at Ehrman Crest Elementary/Middle School in Cranberry Township. The wing ends were designed to take advantage of natural light. Cary Shaffer/Butler Eagle
Safety first

Jeremy Dwyer, project architect from CannonDesign, said that while most elementary schools locate their youngest students in the first floor area, the youngest students were placed on Ehrman Crest’s second floor for added safety.

“We wanted to create an easier way to get the little kids upstairs,” Dwyer said.

A two-story map of the world greets those in the lobby, where the entrance to the Creativity Innovation Research Center can be found.

The front of the large area contains a library and separate media lab with a green wall painted especially for videotaping.

The end of the large, semicircular circulation desk contains a “genius bar,” where students can meet with a computer specialist if they are having issues with their laptops.

The rear of the center is set up for robotics, laser printing and other high-tech student uses.

A large balcony outside the second-floor kindergarten wing will allow youngsters a chance to learn and play outdoors in a confined yet spacious area, and every classroom in the kindergarten wing has a restroom.

The district decided on seven kindergarten classrooms because eligible students will attend full-day kindergarten instead of the traditional half-day.

Troy Hoggard, lead architect from CannonDesign, stands in the kindergarten common area at the new Ehrman Crest Elementary/Middle School in the Seneca Valley School District during a media tour Tuesday of the new facility. Hoggard said the building and classrooms are designed to enhance “Just in Time" learning centers and student groups. Cary Shaffer/Butler Eagle
Goal is to foster curiosity

McCarty said every area of the school is meant to foster curiosity and learning among students, including a transparent interior wall where students can see the insulation, wiring, and ductwork for heating and cooling.

The 16 solar panels on the roof above the music wing are connected to monitors inside the building, where students can compare the efficiency of the school’s traditional heating and cooling system.

Two collaboration spaces in each wing boast sinks and durable flooring for hands-on learning, and to gather multiple classrooms together for lessons.

Instead of rugs, students will use mats for seating that are easy to clean and store.

“The whole idea behind it is not to isolate classes anymore,” McCarty said. “We want it to be a messy space where kids can explore and make mistakes and learn from them.”

Dwyer envisions lessons being learned from books or laptops in classrooms, then students joining one another in the collaboration space to try out the concept under the watchful eye of their teachers.

Vertical pegboards in three areas of the building are for displaying artwork in its various stages of creation.

Regarding classrooms, Ehrman Crest has no neat rows of desks where students must sit quietly all day.

“Desks” are actually individual, curved-edge rolling tables that can be interconnected for large-group projects.

Assistant superintendent Sean McCarty shows the flexibility of the new student desks Tuesday at Seneca Valley’s Ehrman Crest Elementary/Middle School in Cranberry Township. The desks can be pushed together in multiple configurations. Cary Shaffer/Butler Eagle

“The key word with furniture is ‘flexibility,’” McCarty said. “The goal is to create an environment where teachers can quickly move to various configurations.”

Dwyer said he and school officials collaborated with experts at the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum in designing many facets of the school to offer students the most optimum learning spaces now and in the future.

The school’s art wing doubles as a storm shelter that can accommodate the entire capacity of 1,400 students.

McCarty said a hydroponics area will be added in the future as well.

Each wing in the school is unique, the walls and furniture are color coordinated, and the flooring designs represent mathematic principals.

Dwyer was thrilled to work on the unique and forward-thinking school.

“Seneca Valley really gave us the keys to push the boundaries,” he said. “I don’t know of another school like this.”

McCarty is excited to welcome students and their parents in the upcoming weeks when they visit their new school.

He hopes students will look at a day that they are absent as missing out.

“Our goal was to give kids the opportunity to discover and make learning fun,” he said.

Media and school personnel get a first look at the Ehrman Crest Elementary/Middle School in Cranberry Township Tuesday. Here, the group moved through a learning exhibit area. Cary Shaffer/Butler Eagle

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