The new Quora Education Center in Little Canada, Minn., celebrated its grand opening in August 2018 as the latest educational facility in Minnesota's Northeast Metro 916 Intermediate School District designed specifically to address the sensory needs of
students receiving special education services.
Quora Education Center was designed by Minneapolis-based Lawal Scott Erickson (LSE) Architects Inc., as a replacement for and on the same property as the district's Capitol View Center – a 1950s-era traditional brick school building with poor acoustics
and a lack of private learning spaces for students receiving special education services. LSE Architects led a two-year study to determine the best design "to meet the needs of students who learn best in a safe environment free from the auditory and
visual distractions found in the original school," according to an architect's statement.
To address these issues, LSE Architects designed the new center with flexible learning spaces for small groups and one-on-one instruction as well as with more sensory rooms and natural lighting. Interior decor includes soft, movable teen friendly furniture.
Attention to students' needs also is reflected in the selection of a sensory friendly natural color palette for the school's exterior.
Quora Education Center is clad in a total of 24,300 square feet of 4mm ALUCOBOND® Plus aluminum composite material (ACM) by 3A Composites USA in the company's ALUCOBOND® naturAL and Spectra color lines, including: 12,500 square feet of naturAL
Rusted Metal, 9,600 square feet of naturAL Chestnut, 1,400 square feet of Spectra Ocean and 800 square feet of Spectra Amazon.
The new $43-million Quora Education Center is home to five schools – including Quora High School – and serves 300 students in grades 5-12 enrolled in both general education and special education programs. The three-level 157,000 square-foot
Quora Education Center also provides administrative offices for more than 200 staff members.
The White Bear Lake, Minn.-headquartered Northeast Metro 916 Intermediate School District – a cooperative program of suburban school districts located outside St. Paul, Minn. – provides intensive special education services that would be too
costly for individual member districts to afford. Quora's special education programs serve students with autism spectrum disorders, developmental cognitive disabilities, emotional/behavioral disorders and other health disabilities.
The selection of a natural color palette of ALUCOBOND® Plus installed as building cladding helped to fulfill a critical design goal that "the building should not be flashy or overly colorful" to avoid distressing students with special needs, according
to Guy Davidson, AIA, senior designer, LSE Architects.
"Given the former building's inadequate site and play areas, I began to think about maximizing the children's experience in their new play areas and how to make the building reflect that feeling," said Davidson. "The Chestnut wood-finish and Rusted Metal
ALUCOBOND® panels were an easy, natural fit into the natural landscape idea. Those colors became the unifying overall body of the building. The building's separate programs came to be signified by the use of the ALUCOBOND® Spectra Amazon and
Ocean panels – especially at the separate entries for these programs. I wanted kids looking from the playground to the building to see the sparkle of the Ocean blue and Amazon green panels and be uplifted but not distressed. The new site is
delightfully expansive and natural. I think that natural feeling was also delivered in our building design."
The ALUCOBOND® Plus naturAL and Spectra colored ACM panels were juxtaposed with red brick on the building’s façade. “The owner loves the brick because the iron spot elements within each brick give the walls life with a scattered
sparkle rather than the wall becoming a large singular element,” said Davidson. “The color is warm but stays a bit in the background to allow the other materials equal play.”
Manufacturer's representative Environmental Building Products LLC, of Excelsior, Minn., introduced the new ALUCOBOND® naturAL Wood Series to LSE Architects.
"We reviewed many, many color schemes," said Davidson. "Some had much more of the Spectra colors and less of the naturAL colors. The schemes with a predominance of Spectra were viewed as too dramatic; whereas, the schemes with predominant naturAL colors
with some Spectra were more calming and 'just right' in the end. The idea was to amplify the building entries to create individual identities into a building where seven separate programs co-existed. Students would know: 'That's my entry.'"
The sky-like blue of the Spectra Ocean and the flora-like green of the Spectra Amazon panels were a "perfect fit" with the Rusted Metal and Chestnut in the building's overall natural color scheme, according to Davidson, who said he thought students "would
enjoy that flash of color as well as the ability to recognize their individual entry from the large play fields in front of the building."
Davidson said the selection of the Rusted Metal and Chestnut ALUCOBOND® Plus panels will keep the building from becoming "dated" and provide ease of maintenance for the school district.
"The fact that I could get the timeless look of wood and rusted metal in long-lasting ALUCOBOND® material – instead of actual wood, for example – is great," said Davidson. "This building was the third constructed by this owner within three
years, so they are very sophisticated about what materials work and last."
Incorporating ALUCOBOND® Plus panels in the Spectra color-shifting finishing system in the center's design fulfilled one of the owner's primary wishes that "this new building not be overbearingly, painfully institutional in a depressing, sad way,"
according to Davidson.
Davidson brought the exterior natural color theme indoors by incorporating Rusted Metal panels as an interior accent in the center's main vestibule. He described this interior design choice as "sometimes fun to put a piece of material at touch level to
make the rest of the material that's not touchable that much more familiar."
LSE Architects began the design study for Quora Education Center in 2015 and partnered with general contractor Kraus-Anderson Construction Co., of Minneapolis, on building construction, which was begun in June 2016 and was completed in August 2018.
Atomic Architectural Sheet Metal Inc., of Vadnais Heights, Minn., fabricated and installed the ALUCOBOND® Plus ACM and worked with LSE Architects on the color palette selection.
"This is not a 'plain jane' brown building,” said Rick Schmidberger, vice president, sales, Atomic Architectural Sheet Metal. “The amount of the Chestnut wood-grain and Rusted Metal panels installed on this project is unique compared to the
other projects we work on. Adding the Spectra finishes at the entries helps to create a pleasing contrast without taking away from the overall feel of the exterior. This building has character but a natural look. We're proud to have been a part of
Atomic Architectural Sheet Metal began fabrication of a total of 1,250 ALUCOBOND® Plus panels in June 2017 and completed installation with a dry-joint system in April 2018. The ALUCOBOND® Plus panels ranged in size from 6-inches by 12-inches up
to 4-feet by 8-feet.
The new Quora Education Center was constructed on the property's old football field within approximately 30 feet of the in-use Capitol View Center, which was scheduled for later demolition. In order to minimize distractions for students during construction,
murals were installed around the construction site.
"The old building really was an attempt to shoehorn very distinct and, in many ways, incompatible school programs into an old junior high school building from the 1950s," said Davidson. "To say that the new center works better is like saying that I like
light bulbs better than candles. The old building wasn't bulldozed until after the new building opened, which required extraordinary logistics during construction. Accomplishing what we did was an amazing feat."
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© Mark Kempf Photography courtesy of 3A Composites USA