Big Advances at a Small, Rural School – Glenn Public School

Article | 07.24.2020

By Derk Walkotten, AIA, NCARB, Architect/Project Manager
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Glenn Public School (GPS) is Michigan's oldest continuous rural school district, educating students since 1854.

Their mission to "...engage and inspire young people..." has spurred the District to expand their 4,400 square-foot facility and improve safety for its current K-5 student body of 41 pupils.

This three-room schoolhouse, with its traditional red brick and white trimmed windows, conjures a time long past. Horse-drawn carriages and wagons, woodpiles, hitching posts, and an outhouse. However, within the 166-year-old walls is an environment that offers students many of the technological advances of today's schools, and a focus on outdoor learning continues a "rich tradition as a place to learn, grow, and play."

For GPS to expand their programming while honoring its history and mission, the district engaged the Wightman Architectural Studio to develop a feasibility study which would identify potential expansion options. As a part of the study, the district participated in a survey. From the completed survey, the GPS Board of Education approved a $350,000 construction budget for a 1,190 SF addition which meets the five key programming goals for the proposed school expansion: a multi-purpose room, front office, secure entry vestibule, an identifiable main entry to the school, an outdoor classroom, and a greenhouse learning center.

Utilization of the completed feasibility study helped inform the bond campaign, ultimately passing by over 76% in March 2020. Work then proceeded on the construction documents. Administration staff meetings were held during the process to fine-tune the design, collaborate on finishes, and bring the design to completion. The project is currently being prepared for bidding and permitting, as the school looks to start construction this fall and open the addition in 2021.

During the initial stages of the feasibility study, the district decided to apply for a Michigan State Police Safety Grant. Wightman quickly responded to support the grant writing effort, resulting in a Safety Grant of over $48,000 to improve school safety and security by replacing and upgrading doors and security hardware. However, the Safety Grant execution requirements created the need to install the grand funded work as a separate project, independent of the other planned improvements. Wightman worked to prepare complementary project scopes to fully utilize the grant funding and the Safety Grant project bid documents were released in March 2020. The bidding schedule was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, but as of this writing the project is in the award phase and is on schedule to meet the grant requirements to be completed by the end of 2020.

Both projects will help the GPS enhance student safety, provide the school community with new indoor and outdoor learning spaces, and maintain the historical presence of the school in the community.

Critical project success factors include:

  • Development of a clear vision and measurable goals.
  • Abundant communication with school district personnel and the community aligning the project program with the established goals.
  • Board of Education (BOE) input centered around community expectations.
  • Rapid Safety Grant Application development and submission.
  • Translation of the School District's vision and goals into architectural solution options.
  • Early development of third-party cost estimates helped the district prioritize their project goals.


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