Transforming a Nearly Century-Old School Building into a Modern Learning Space

Transforming a Nearly Century-Old School Building into a Modern Learning Space

With MiEN’s help, the staff at Robert D. Johnson Elementary School replaces a nearly 100-year-old building with a modern, collaborative learning space that its students and teachers love.

Open since 1923, Robert D. Johnson Elementary School of Fort Thomas, Ken., will soon hit its 100-year-old milestone, but not before transforming its aging buildings into a completely new, modern learning space.

With 460 students in grades PK-5, the school was operating with three separate, disconnected buildings, including a gym and a library. The latter was the school’s original building and had been added to and modified over time.

“Many phases of construction took place over the last 100 years,” said Ashley Dikeos, Principal, “but we were still dealing with very old buildings that had a lot of things wrong with it.” The school advocated with its legislators, many of whom came to visit the school in person.

“We felt like once they could see the actual building, they would realize what kind of shape the facilities were really in,” said Dikeos. “Ultimately, the decision was made that we would get money to help build our brand-new school. The Fort Thomas Education Foundation was also instrumental in helping raise money to finish out the project and we’re very grateful to them for that.”

The Right Combination for Collaboration

Focused on building a more collaborative learning environment, the new school incorporated “social steps” (a large staircase where students or classes can gather); large, soundproof doors that can be opened and used to combine classrooms; and portable technology that can be repositioned to accommodate different group sizes and functions. “We work together in groups a lot and have been able to continue that through the pandemic,” said Dikeos, “and all while following COVID protocols.”

Working with MiEN, the school selected a combination of desks and tables that are all on casters and easy to move. This would prove extremely beneficial during times when teachers open up the doors between their classrooms and work in larger groups.

The new school also had soft benches installed in its hallways to help encourage collaboration among students. Its brand-new library includes a mix of traditional books, a maker space, soft seating, and an inset couch that incorporates multiple tiered layers.

“Our librarian uses that ‘nook’ to teach her K-2 students while those in grades 3-5 work at tables,” Dikeos explained. “There’s a variety of seating options across the school that meets all of our students’ needs.”

A Phenomenal Job

After connecting with MiEN through a mutual connection, Dikeos began working with the company to build out the vision for a new and modernized Robert D. Johnson Elementary School.

“MiEN did a phenomenal job of keeping me updated on what was going where,” she said. “This is my first time moving into a huge place like this, but MiEN has been doing it for years and was very helpful during the whole process.”

When it came to selecting specific pieces of furniture, Dikeos said its design partner took the time to learn the school’s vision and to find colors, pieces and textures that fit well with its overall mission. MiEN also designed some specific furniture pieces (e.g., a kidney-shaped table for smaller spaces) and incorporated natural materials like wood and stone to create what Dikeos calls a “national parks feel.”

Supporting a Generation of “Doers”

Today’s students want to get hands-on and learn by doing and that’s exactly what Robert D. Johnson Elementary School’s new building is allowing them to do in a very comfortable, inviting and engaging manner.

“When you get into the real world, you have to work with people. You have to work in teams, you have to know how to work together, and everybody works differently,” Dikeos said. “When you create a space that is inviting and welcoming for students to come in and put their best foot forward and want to work together in teams, the environment only helps to foster that.”

Pleased with the results of her school’s new buildout, Dikeos said her biggest goal is for kids and teachers to come through the doors of their school every day and say to themselves, “I love it here.”

“As a Principal, it’s my job to help create that environment,” she added. “This relates directly to your school’s culture, mission and vision, and it’s about making sure that kids are prepared and have what they need—from the new building and it’s incredible spaces to the academic learning they get in the classroom to their hands-on experience, and everything in between.”

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