Berrien Springs School District's Virtual Learning Academy is taking public education to the next level. The recently opened facility, which offers area students both traditional on-site education and online courses, features the latest advances in technology, design and materials, including storefront systems manufactured by Tubelite.
The building's striking exterior, designed by local architects CARMI Design Group, is the first indication that this school is different from other schools in Southwestern Michigan. "We wanted the building's form to portray the modern style of learning that occurs within its walls," said Tony Leininger, president of CARMI Design Group. "Tubelite's range of products and industry expertise gave us the freedom to execute our design concept in a way that other products could not."
The resulting design features three distinct spaces, sharp angles and generous uses of glass framed in recycled aluminum by Tubelite's 14000 and T14650 Series Storefronts, installed by Midwest Glass & Mirror. Linetec painted the aluminum in a Hartford Green fluoropolymer finish, corresponding with the school's "Home of the Shamrocks" motto.
Designed for low-rise applications, Tubelite’s 14000 Series Storefront durable, flush-glazed system offers optimal strength and thermal performance. Framing members have 2 x 4.5-inch profiles. Tubelite’s 14650 Series frame offers the same design, assembly and accessories as the 14000 Series' 2-inch face, but features a depth of 6.5 inches. The additional 2-inch depth on the interior side of the frame provides greater structural properties and allows taller first floor openings.
Inside the 6,700-square-foot learning facility, the futuristic features continue. Visitors enter the building's lobby, which houses an interactive cyber café, with vending area, café-style tables and chairs, and lounge seating. The structure's two "pods" include a conference room with interactive whiteboards, high-resolution projectors, image-capturing equipment and other high-tech components, and a state-of-the-art computer lab. In addition to 60 computers, the lab has three large-format projection screens on different walls to support the concept that the "front" of the room is wherever the instructor is at that moment.
The Virtual Learning Academy's edgy architecture has garnered positive reviews from district staff and the community, and helped the building become the face of the district. But according to Leininger, the most important feedback has come from the students themselves.
Berrien Springs Technology Director Brandon Waggoner has said that the building's state-of-the-art feel helped the students learn more effectively by making them feel as if they had arrived someplace special.
The $1.8 million Virtual Learning Academy opened for high school students at the start of the fall semester, September 2010, and is now offers enrollment for middle school students.
Berrien Springs Virtual Learning Academy Project Credits:
• Owner: Berrien Springs Public Schools, Berrien Springs, Mich.
• Architect: CARMI Design Group Inc., Edwardsburg, Mich.
• General contractor: Shelton Construction, Benton Harbor, Mich.
• Glazing contractor: Midwest Glass & Mirror, Stevensville, Mich.
• Glass fabricator: PPG Industries, Pittsburgh, Penn.
• Storefront systems: Tubelite Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich.
• Storefront systems' finisher: Linetec, Wausau, Wis.
• Photography by Joseph Hilliard