Citation Award Winner

Design Team Member(s)
Troy Bishop, Architecture Team – Design leadTom Coburn, Consultant – MEP lead, Morrison Maierle, IncMICHAEL DOWLING, Architecture Team – Principal in Charge, Dowling ArchitectsKen Murphy, Architecture Team – ALSC Principal, ALSC ArchitectsKamela Potratz, Architecture Team – ProgrammingAubrey Yerger, Consultant – Structural Lead, Morrison Maierle, Inc
Project Description:
Jim Darcy Elementary School is a state of the art K-5 school. Located on the same site as the existing school the school’s namesake Jim Darcy was a helicopter pilot that attended the school in his youth and passed away when his helicopter crashed in the Vietnam war while delivering food to an engaged unit in an active zone. To this day his brother Bill and sister Margaret celebrate Jim’s birthday with the children attending school keeping his story alive. Jim’s legacy served as inspiration for the design of the school. Never done before in the United States, National Guard representatives arranged for a Blackhawk Helicopter to fly in during the ribbon cutting and in honor of Jim Darcy a guardsman repelled from the helicopter with an American Flag which was delivered to the school.

Program Requirements:
67,000 s.f. on two levels. (4) classrooms each of K, 1st and 2nd grades and (3) classrooms each of 3rd, 4th and 5th grades. Each classroom pod has an additional shared learning space. A full size gymnasium contains bleachers for 500 and serves the school and the community. A community kitchen is adjacent to a large Multipurpose space for community use and food service. Administrative space, Special Education spaces, Music classroom and the library complete the program.

Sustainability Goals:
The school district challenged the design team to meet LEED Silver design criteria while choosing not to pursue certification. Building orientation is sited to take advantage of southern exposures and northern daylight while shielding outdoor play areas from the westerly winds that can be brutal during winter months.

Design Solutions:
Flight and landscape inspired the design team. Jim Darcy’s flight legacy is reflected throughout the school both with backlit shadow boxes scattered through the public spaces gracefully telling Jim’s story. Blackhawk helicopter blades were donated and restored and hang in the “living room” of the school. Art installations are placed throughout the school reflecting this heritage. The gently sloping roofs over the classroom wings and entry reflect the gentle landscape as well as a nod taking flight. The Helena valley is defined by streams and canals that make their way from the foothills to the reservoirs to the north. These meandering streams are evident throughout the valley. The designers were inspired by how the valley organization is affected by these waterways. The footprint of the school is organized along a single, gently curving corridor on two floors. This simple organization resulted in fewer hallways and increased security. The principal has a line of site from his office to the end of this corridor. Securing the building after hours takes minutes. Security and flexible learning are key factors in any new school design. The design of Jim Darcy School takes these to the next level. Every aspect of the school has been designed for multiple levels of security as well as the ability for students and teachers to shelter in place or flee. Each classroom wing can be secured from the primary circulation with the push of a button. Exterior doors to exterior learning spaces allow for evacuation of the wings for the youngest grade levels without entering back into the school. Main corridor doors also allow the classroom wings to be secured from the public areas of the school for after hours usage and as a second level of security in the event of an emergency. Each classroom wing shares a “breakout” space for alternative learning options. Large enough for a full class, these spaces have full teaching and learning amenities. Entering the building students and guests walk into the living room which immediately reflects aspects of home. Passing through the living room the Multipurpose space opens up to incredible north light and is anchored by the learning stair which offers additional alternative teaching opportunity. The learning stair is built from the glulam beams which supported the roof of the original gymnasium. A balcony at the top of the learning stair overlooks the Multipurpose space and leads to the Library. 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classrooms are located on the upper level along the main corridor. Floor to roof glazing at light wells separating each wing flood the corridor with daylight and a sense of connectivity between the floors.

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