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Career Academy of Pella

The Client

Founded by Dutch immigrants, Pella is a vibrant small town located 40 miles southeast of Des Moines. The Career Academy is the product of a unique collaboration among the public school district, regional community college, local private schools, and area industry. Pella is the home of Central College, as well as several manufacturing companies, including Pella Corporation and Vermeer Manufacturing Company. Its strong local industry and higher education presence anchors its robust economy.

The Brief

The Academy concept was born from a school district-wide master planning process that identified the area’s high demand for vocational trades including police, manufacturing, and healthcare. A facility was needed to provide STEM instruction, an interdisciplinary and applied pedagogy that integrates science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Within flexible classrooms and workshops, students of all ages could gain skills vital to the local economy. As constructed, the building provides 23,000-sf of adaptable vocational shops and classrooms. The diversity of ongoing community involvement meant that uses could range widely; a space designed as an auto shop was initially used as an art instruction studio.

Where We Started

Following the Pella Community School District’s master plan bond issue passage, the Career Academy was the first of a sequence of projects to be realized. Community meetings and facility tours highlighted facility needs, provided a forum for community input, and strengthened consensus. The school administration, building users, and design team worked closely together to determine the best use of space and funding.

Locating the building near the existing high school but with its own site entrance and parking lot provided a means to highlight the building’s community function while strengthening the high school’s overall campus environment. It also demanded thoughtful strategies to mediate between the new building’s robust program and the scale of the surrounding single-story ranch home neighborhood. The team realized that, if future expansion could be accommodated to the north, then recessing the building into a hillside would reduce earthwork cost and overall height.

What We Did

Nestled into the topography, a double height circulation spine organizes the building, gathers daylight, and provides views across the adjacent grassy field. The spine provides access to airy classrooms and shop spaces constructed of simple, durable materials that will stand up to heavy use. Each shop has direct access to the exterior space.

Pragmatically deployed materials evince the academy’s Midwestern sensibility. The building derives its character from simple forms, monolithic material planes, and large glass openings. The confident formal language aligns with the Academy’s progressive mission to re-shape the future of its community. Careful selection, editing, and detailing of common building materials elevates the design of an otherwise utilitarian structure, raising the importance of its building type.

Exterior materials relate to the building’s primarily masonry context. The dark brick’s sizing and coursing references that of adjacent structures. Ipe, applied as cladding and screening, contributes a durable, maintenance-free warmth. Translucent wall panels on the western elevation usher diffused daylight deep into the shop spaces to naturally illuminate work areas.

How it Works

Central to the building’s mission is its durable flexibility. The structure can calibrate to a range of uses, with a ‘loose-fit’ that allows for easy future adaptation. The structural system is a combination of concrete, masonry, and steel. Durable materials clad the interior and exterior, reducing the need for additional, shorter-lived finish materials. Finishes are sparingly employed.

General classrooms deliver diverse curricula, maximizing potential use and ensuring long-term value. The building also houses high tech equipment that exposes students to current production methods used in local manufacturing. Instruments like CNC plasma cutters and robotic welders provide students with practical, hands-on experience. Shop spaces are fully illuminated by daylight, power delivery is flexible, and metal stud framing allows for future technology integration.

The building provides controllable daylighting even with the challenges of a North/South building axis.

Strategically placed openings frame views out and direct daylight in. Translucent wall panels in the upper portion of the exterior wall allow diffuse natural light to penetrate far into the building and illuminate work benches. The long band of glazing on the eastern façade aligns with the opening for the stairs below, allowing light to enter the lower level while providing light and views above. The even, glare-free daylight throughout optimizes building performance and enhances the building’s spatial experience. Given the spaces’ manufacturing capabilities, it also efficiently reduces safety hazards related to insufficient lighting levels.

Project Type: Education

Location: Pella, Iowa

Size: 21,900 SF

Completed: 2015

2016 AIA Central States Design Award
2015 AIA Iowa Design Award

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