Building from the Ground Up at Belmont Elementary School
- 20th January 2021
- Anthony Bowie
On track to outpace the nation’s population growth between now and 2024, Florida’s Hillsborough County is growing by 8.7% annually (compared to 3.9% for the U.S. as a whole). With a current population of over 1.4 million, the area is constantly in need of new or expanded school facilities to accommodate these ongoing increases.
When a new subdivision began welcoming residents to the Sun City Center area in early-2020, Hillsborough County Public Schools soon realized that it needed a new elementary school to accommodate those families. With its media specialists at the heart of the decision-making and planning process, the district set out to build a new facility from the ground up.
At the epicenter of the project would be an innovative, modern media center where students and teachers could come to learn, teach, interact, and collaborate with each other. In January 2020, the district began working with MiEN to start laying out the plans for Belmont Elementary School’s media center.
John Milburn, Supervisor of Library Media Services K-5, at Hillsborough County PS, said the district wanted to build a functional space that was also flexible and collaborative.
“We wanted to move away from using super-sturdy, heavy, wooden library furniture,” said Milburn, “and instead create very nimble spaces that can accommodate individual learners, small groups, and larger groups.”
With MiEN as its space design partner, Hillsborough County PS created a media center that “pops,” and that gets Pre-K through 5th-grade students excited as they walk over the threshold and into the facility. “It’s about serving who’s most important,” Milburn noted, “and that’s the students who are going to be using the space.”
Tera Jarrell, Media Specialist at Belmont Elementary School, says the district achieved its goal (and then some), on that front. “I can rearrange my entire library in less than an hour—even the circulation desk,” she said. “Same with the shelving. I’m not stuck with one configuration and that’s important because what might work at one point doesn’t always work down the line.”
That flexibility proved especially valuable during the global pandemic, when social distancing and other precautionary measures had to be taken on campus to ensure everyone’s wellbeing. Jarrell said she’s been able to move things around and rearrange furniture in order to create more space between students.
The new media center includes specific areas for maker spaces, technology, and art. “When John presented us with the different designs, MiEN’s jumped out at me because it included those very specific spaces, soft seating for the reading areas, and a ‘genius table’ (similar to those used in Apple stores) complete with charging hubs,” Jarrell explained. “MiEN came through with just about everything we were asking for right from the beginning.”
With some of the design and construction taking place during the early stages of the pandemic, the district team worked with MiEN’s design professionals via Zoom, selecting fabrics, colors, and other options. The end result exceeded the district’s expectations.
“If you told someone that this was all accomplished without ever having had all the parties physically in the same room together,” said Milburn, “I think they’d be surprised.”
Hillsborough County’s population set to outpace nation’s over the next 5 years – Tampa Bay Economic Development Council. (2019). Retrieved 20 December 2020, from https://tampabayedc.com/news/hillsborough-countys-population-set-to-outpace-nations-over-the-next-5-years/#:~:text=July%2011%2C%202019,of%20more%20than%201.4%20million