Honor Award Winner
Bryant Elementary School holds a unique place in Helena as one of the oldest schools in the community, serving a neighborhood with a rich history and strong character. Located in an historically under-privileged neighborhood facing challenges of poverty, hunger and addiction, the design team sought to create a place of refuge from the struggles of everyday life, providing a welcoming sense of acceptance and safety. The new school will be the fourth facility on this site. Originally built in 1888, the building was reconstructed in 1913. In 1935, an earthquake destroyed the school. The existing school was completed in 1938 with the multipurpose gym built in 1973. At 80 years old, the time had come for rebuilding the school again.
The new 60,500sf Bryant Elementary School is designed to accommodate 350 students in grades K-5. The central “Hub”, directly inside the main entry, literally incorporates the learning community’s “Kitchen Table”, where mentoring and engagement between students and adults takes place. Every space within and surrounding the building is treated as fertile ground for learning and engagement. Breakout spaces in each grade level community are vibrant light-filled spaces with direct access from classrooms that share light and views from one space to another. These breakout spaces provide opportunities for project-based learning, small-group activities, and pull-out services.
Sustainable building principles that complimented educational and district goals were pursued. Daylighting and views from all spaces and LED lighting were high priorities as were efficient mechanical systems that are easy to maintain using local contractors. Variable speed supply fans, premium efficiency motors and step-controlled DX cooling in rooftop units with VAV terminal units provide efficiency and control. Built to be PV-ready, the PV system is now funded and in the design phase.
The site planning for the new school is driven, in large part, by numerous constraints presented by existing conditions, buildable footprint and the mandate to keep kids in the existing school during construction. These constraints lend uniqueness to the plan and the architecture as each design solution is a response to overcoming limitations. For example, a second story bridge became the solution for connecting the main classroom building with the gym and music building while allowing major existing utilities in the street to remain. The original street below the bridge was vacated and has been transformed into an outdoor amphitheater learning environment called ‘Center Field’. The north wing is one story, scaled to fit the residential character of Boulder Avenue. The orientation of the school’s face (front porch), along with its relationship to the neighborhood, lends inspiration to the appearance of the building. The exterior aims to honor the history of the neighborhood while expressing the importance of education. Drawing from the historic craft, materials, and texture as well as the industrial function of the area, the new school interprets details, masonry coursing, fenestration scale/proportion, and form in a contemporary design that ‘fits’ the existing context, marking the continuing history of Bryant School.