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Projects | Thomas J. Waters School

Waters Hallway

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When Chicago Public Schools in-class sessions begin, the students at Thomas J. Waters Elementary school will be greeted by a bright and beautiful new annex full of classrooms, an art lab, music room, and a media library for hands-on learning focused on nature and creativity.

Despite its location on a small, urban lot in the Ravenswood Gardens neighborhood, the new 30,000 sf, three-story annex brings more room for students without disrupting the community garden space which are also used for the school’s environmental and outdoor activities. Each floor, whose interiors were designed by Bailey Edward and Doyle & Associates, is uniquely colored to reflect the natural curriculum and help students understand their location within the building. Corkboards line the halls giving students a place to showcase their creativity. Uniting the existing and the new building are new elevators to ensure students of all abilities have access to classrooms and facilities at all levels.

The new cafeteria gives students ample room to enjoy a meal with their friends as they look out at the school’s large gardens cultivated by students and faculty. Above, on the second floor, an art lab complete with kilns and ample storage gives students an opportunity to experiment with a variety of mediums. A new, acoustically-isolated music room lets children express themselves with their own voice or that of an instrument without disrupting the lessons in other rooms. The third floor hosts a media library, allowing students to explore the world beyond the school’s walls through books, video, and more.

Outside, a new nature-play playground by SITE Design gives students a place to dream, socialize and release excess energy. From here, one can see the smooth brick façade is accented by lines of textured brick, reminiscent of the existing school’s masonry detailing and the historic lore surrounding the turtle and snake who lived along the banks of the Chicago River now buried under the school’s grounds. Beneath the brick, the annex works hand-in-hand with the school’s environmental goals by achieving a 30% savings over LEED standards with an insulated composite wall system that incorporates a continuous air barrier, resulting in a high-performance envelope which reduces the load on mechanical systems and our environment.

Inside and out, this building will encourage students to explore their world through expressions of creativity and unity with nature. Just as the plants in their gardens erupt with color and vegetables, so too will the hallways of Thomas J. Waters Elementary with the art and music of its students discovering the world around them.