On the Road - Rural Schools & Disney

From the ARCH Magazine – By AIA Eastern Oklahoma

Originally published: Issue 02, 2012

On the Road – Rural Schools & Disney

Mike Martin, AIA – Spaces, Design & Architecture (Now Renaissance Architects + Engineers)

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths” – Walt Disney

If you have lived in an urban environment all your life, it is easy to reduce your thoughts about rural , small community living to a country song that would include water towers, mobile homes, and red necks. You would be mistaken. Today’s information society enables all Oklahoma communities to share the same hopes and dreams. Small towns and communities want schools that have the same spaces, equipment and teachers as any large school district.

Reality shows that the difference is in the tax base. In the 1970s I was working for two districts (tiny and giant) at the same time and went to their respective Board of Education meetings. The small school was trying to use their $150,000 bond capacity to build the “shell” of a two classroom addition. The Urban school board was proving $150,000 for a grand piano!

The role of the architect is to perform our best no matter the client, the budget or the circumstances. In education the students are not “country” students or “urban” students. They simply want to grow, learn and have fun. Yet the school maintenance staff wants everything in one or two colors, to make their job easy and economical. If we always use the same colors all the time have we changed anything? Even in rural schools, we can take some lessons from Walt Disney.

Twin Hills School

In 2009, Twin Hills School, a Kindergarten through 8th grade district in Okmulgee County, was preparing to celebrate their 100th anniversary when the original elementary building was destroyed by fire. This stone building had served several generations of families in this tight knit community. The other campus buildings were pre-engineered metal paneled buildings because of tight budgets. Losing the school landmark was a major emotional hit.

Our team met with the school, the insurance adjuster, and the construction manager to determine possibilities for the school. We imagined a new school with the flavor of the old but the spaces of a 21st Century building. Saving the stone from the fire ravaged shell was the first order of business which was cleaned and in one case saved to restore to the main entrance.

The result was a project that took its cues from the former and added such things as a safe room, school nurse exam room, and fun creative spaces.


Kiefer Public Schools

Kiefer Public Schools is a growing community in the shadow of Glenpool and Sapulpa. It needed to expand its Pre-K program to meet the demand of full day classes instead of half day. With two gyms at the elementary campus, it was decided to remodel the oldest to meet the program needs. Half the gym would be Pre-K classes with the remainder an indoor activity space. A safe room was also added. The spaces included art room, reading, and classrooms. The “Reading Tree House” has proven to be a popular gathering space for casual reading and story time.

As with Twin Hills, the Kiefer project uses color and imagery to make creative spaces. There is one constant in designing for children: They will not compare their new spaces with the latest signature architect, but rather they will compare them to Disney World. It is up to the architects to find the balance between learning, creativity, and budget.



Twin Hills Interior

Twin Hills Entry after the fire

 Twin Hills Exterior after reconstruction


 Kiefer Elementary Early Childhood Center Interior


 Kiefer Elementary Early Childhood Center Interior