Buckingham County Primary and Elementary Schools

Project: Buckingham County Primary and Elementary Schools at the Carter G. Woodson Education Complex
Dillwyn, Virginia
Public School
134,015 SQ FT

Year Completed: August 2012

Project Architects: VMDO Architects, P.C.

Research Partners: VMDO Architects, P.C., University of Nebraska Medical Center, University of Virginia School of Medicine

LEED Certification: Tracking LEED Gold

Project Summary: The Buckingham County Primary and Elementary Schools project is a collaborative case study that aims to address student health and well-being through the implementation of holistic design interventions. The project completely re-envisions the school environment to enhance students’ knowledge and overall learning experience, both inside and outside the traditional classroom. Through its design and research process, the Buckingham team also developed the Healthy Eating Design Guidelines for School Architecture. Published by the Centers for Disease Control, this Guide provides practitioners in architecture and public health with a practical set of design strategies for making school environments more conducive to learning about and practicing healthy eating.

The evidence-based design principles that guided the design of the school were co-created in a collaborative team setting with the client team of educators, VMDO Architects and a public health research team from the University of Nebraska and the University of Virginia. In addition, the team worked closely with German furniture manufacturer VS America to specify ergonomic furniture that promotes movement through the ability to transition from sitting to standing for activities such as reading, project-based learning, free work and collaborative learning. This process resulted in a school that through its design promotes healthy eating, nutrition education, and opportunities for physical activity, movement and play.

The team has embarked on a two-year longitudinal study to measure the impact of the new school food and physical activity environment as well as programmatic features such as the integration of school garden activities into curriculum. Researchers from the University of Nebraska Medical Center and University of Virginia School of Medicine, in collaboration with VMDO Architects, are employing multiple assessment methods including environmental audit tools and surveys, analysis of school food procurement and student food purchases. The team is also employing qualitative assessment methods by conducting interviews, direct observation, ethnography and innovative student reflective exercises. Data and evaluation from this project, scheduled to be completed in Spring 2014, will contribute to the development of policies for school design, interiors and landscapes that promote healthy eating and active behaviors.

According to the design team, the inclusion of health-promoting design features responded to the immediate needs of the Buckingham community as well as the relative dearth of research (in both the public health and design sectors) analyzing the role that school programming and design can play in reducing childhood obesity rates. With a land use pattern dominated by the timber industry and industrial farming practices, Buckingham County boasts little access to fresh and healthy food as well as safe places for riding bikes, walking, playing or being active. The architects immediately sought to counteract the connectivity challenges of the existing rural context by designing the school with ample indoor and outdoor amenities, increased connectivity and recreational landscapes, that are centered around a healthy food environment.

Active Design Highlights:

1. Physical activity and general movement are promoted with:

    • an interior monumental lobby stair, connecting two important shared common spaces and functioning as a social hub, physical activity feature, and place to “see and be seen.”
    • painted “kid handrails” featuring fun colors that make stairs kid-friendly and inviting.
    • stair signage prompting use are posted at all stair locations.
    • fitness/movement opportunities that are co-located alongside children’s learning spaces.
    • interior vantage points and visual connections to the outdoors, which include views of nature, outdoor classrooms, gardens, playscapes and walking paths.
    • covered outdoor areas for all-weather, all-season physical education, play and movement-based activities.
    • ergonomic seating designed for micro-movement and furniture options that encourage active postures.

2. Outdoor areas promote recreation and provide:

    • 15 acres of on-site recreational space for children, youth, families and the community with intergenerational programming (i.e. seniors tending to the garden with their grandchildren).
    • physical activity, sustainable and food smart activity zones as well as places for quiet reflection, relaxation and meditation.
    • an extensive network of walking paths that encourages moderate to vigorous physical activity as well as play terrace exercise loops with measured walking paths.

3. Access to and education about healthy food is provided with:

    • a teaching kitchen and food lab lounge.
    • dining commons that is a flexible learning environment.
    • readily available fresh water in classrooms, dining commons, corridors and outdoor play terraces.
    • a policy of no vending machines on-site.
    • a kitchen garden with a variety of raised bed heights for users of varying abilities and sizes.
    • circulation patterns and integrated way-finding graphics in the dining commons that make healthy food choice more efficient and allow students more time to enjoy their meals.
    • a grab-n-go garden adjacent to the play areas that facilitates healthy snacking right off the vine/tree/shrub.
    • visual access to commercial kitchen, which connects children to food preparation and food service educators.

To see a video from the architects and researchers about this project, click here.

  • User Side Images Image 221
    The "Woodland Hub" designed to encourage creative play; Photo Credit: Tom Daly.
  • User Side Images Image 222
    Access to fresh water provided throughout school; Photo Credit: Tom Daly.
  • User Side Images Image 223
    Slate channel, waterfall scupper and garden area; Photo Credit: Alan Karchmer.
  • Changes in dining room design may contribute to increased knowledge of the food environment, preference for fruits and vegetables, and higher vegetable consumption.

  • When using playgrounds that are painted with designs for games and imaginative play, kids engage in moderate to vigorous activity for more than 50% of their recess period.