Manassas Park, Virginia, is a small, independent city surrounded by the affluent northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. Incorporated in 1975, the city cobbled together a series of pre-manufactured mobile buildings to create its first generation of school facilities from scratch.
Ten years ago, the city began rebuilding all of its public schools—an enormous challenge in a city with an extremely low tax base.
The new Manassas Park Elementary School and Pre-Kindergarten (MPES) are the fourth and fifth new schools, and they join the earlier Cougar Elementary School to complete the city's elementary campus.
The campus sits tightly surrounded by tract housing, private forest, and the historic landmark Camp Carondelet—forested winter quarters of the Confederacy's Louisiana Brigade between the first and second Manassas campaigns.
The project is part of our series featuring the AIA's 2010 COTE Top Ten Green Projects.
MPES serves a diverse population of students—many from immigrant families. The 2009-2010 enrollment includes sixty-eight percent non-white and twenty-six percent Limited-English-Proficient children. Forty-four percent receive free or reduced cost lunches. In the context of this rich diversity, the successful transformation of the school culture testifies to the vision and leadership of the Manassas Park City Schools administration.
MPES is fundamentally designed around the premise that people, especially children, cannot be expected to preserve or protect something they do not understand. As such, the school is conceived throughout as a teaching tool that shepherds children along a path of environmental stewardship. Inside and out, sustainable design is integrated with the elementary curriculum. Design decisions were made with the expressed goal of showcasing as many teachable moments as possible.
Interior extended learning spaces offer dramatic and surprisingly intimate views of the neighboring mixed oak forest, while elementary classrooms face shady moss- and fern-covered learning courtyards featuring "fallen" trees and other particularities of an eastern deciduous forest floor.
At MPES, not only are children offered exceptional views of the forest, they are invited to use the numerous exterior break-out spaces and to explore the piedmont landscape directly. The principal bio-retention area, for example, is detailed to serve as outdoor classroom, performance stage, and parent pick-up queue. In addition, this area has quickly become a popular location for informal gathering.
A comprehensive signage program reinforces each teachable moment by highlighting green building facts, demystifying sustainable building systems, and describing flora and fauna found in the adjacent forest.
* Location: Manassas Park, VA
* Building type(s): K-12 education
* New construction
* 140,000 ft2 (13,000 m2)
* Suburban setting
* Completed April 2009
(courtesy of the Architects)