Robert Frost Elementary earns 2010 Polished Apple Award

Innovative, configurable spaces help reassert neighborhood school as center of community.

On June 4, the Washington Chapter of the Council of Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI) awarded Robert Frost Elementary in Kirkland with their highest architectural honor, the “2010 Polished Apple Award.”  This is the fourth Polished Apple awarded to a Lake Washington School District school.

Only one Polished Apple Award is given each year, selected by a jury of design and education professionals. The honor is awarded to the Owner/Design Team whose built project best represents responsiveness, innovation, sustainable strategies, adaptability to future educational delivery changes, aesthetic design, and community enhancement.

“This year’s project did all of that, and more,” said CEFPI juror Rick Benner. “All combined to form a beautiful facility that will benefit the community for years to come.”

Frost Elementary Principal Sue Anne Sullivan said she is proud that the school has been recognized, and loves that the building reflects who they are as a learning community. “Our school truly is an integral part of this neighborhood,” Ms. Sullivan said. “Our school represents our community’s focus on the connection between school and family.”

To Frost Elementary architect Dennis Erwood, reinforcing a sense of community is crucial to a successful neighborhood school design—and this effort starts at the curb. “From the way that the school nestles into its landscape to the profile of the roofline,” said Mr. Erwood, principal at design firm Studio Meng Strazzara, “we strove to make Frost Elementary fit with and enrich the Kingsgate neighborhood character, while creating a really great place for kids to learn.”

Just like a family’s budget, planning a school means providing what teachers and students need while wringing every drop of value from each dollar spent. This can be a challenge when changes in educational delivery outpace a school’s ability to accommodate new teaching practices without building modification.  At Frost Elementary, flexibility and adaptability are key features of its design to keep the school relevant for years to come.

The school principal continually finds new ways to demonstrate the design innovation at Frost Elementary using its outdoor learning spaces and moveable walls. “There is enormous flexibility to our design,” said Ms. Sullivan. “Classroom walls can be easily opened to Shared Learning Spaces and other classrooms.” This operability empowers teachers to create various spaces to support learning opportunities, and also accommodates student and community gathering.

Ms. Sullivan pointed out that the ability to transform interior spaces isn’t limited to the classrooms. “Moveable walls between the Music Room Stage/Commons/Gym areas and the moveable glass wall between the Commons and the Lobby have allowed us to create many different space formats for assemblies, performances, family events, and meetings.”

Supporting student learning and growth is the primary goal of every school project, and according to the CEFPI jury, Frost Elementary achieves this in “an eloquent and enchanting fashion.” Still, there are perhaps no greater judges of this success than Frost Elementary parents and teachers.

When hearing the news of the Polished Apple award, Frost Elementary parent Anne Green was quick to send a note of support to the faculty. “I know why our school won!” she wrote, “I see all the many ways the design of Frost demonstrates responsiveness to our programs.” Mrs. Green believes the school’s design elevates enthusiasm for teaching and learning. “Our building physically represents exemplary practice in design and encourages exemplary practice in the teaching that goes on – both inside and outside its walls,” she noted.

Teachers are delighted with the school recognition, but some might not be surprised. “Now we have an award to prove what we have been saying,” said Frost Elementary teacher Kristi Young.  “I feel like the luckiest teacher in the world to get to teach here.”

It’s precisely this school pride and sense of partnership that makes Frost Elementary a cherished learning community and a successful school design.

About Lake Washington: Lake Washington School District is a high-performing public school district serving Kirkland, Redmond, and Sammamish, Washington. It is the sixth largest district in the state of Washington, with over 24,000 students in 50 schools.

About Studio Meng Strazzara: Founded in 1976, Studio Meng Strazzara is a Seattle design firm that provides architectural, planning, and consulting services across the Pacific Northwest.

photo by Steve Keating courtesy of Studio Meng Strazzara