'Cutting-edge' improvements at Fowler
An old woodshop space became a STEM center, complete with 3D printers. A gym floor went from dark and dinghy to light and bright. An under-utilized theater space became an intuitive school entrance and conference room. And an outdated science wing got individual student sinks, a whiteboard post in the hall, and LED lights that are a notable contrast against conventional lighting elsewhere in the building.
"You took a 1975 building, and now you have several new spaces that are 21st century, and very cutting-edge," said Principal Dan Busch about the recently completed renovations at Fowler Middle School — the first major project of the Tigard-Tualatin School District's $290 million bond measure of 2016 to reach the finish line.
Designed by BORA Architects and budgeted at $6 million, Fowler's renovations reached completion around Thanksgiving last year. But classes didn't resume in the newly-updated science and STEM (that's science, technology, engineering and math) classrooms until last week, upon return from winter break.
"Rather than push everyone in there right away, we gave teachers three weeks plus winter break to get moved in," Busch said.
Construction at Fowler began in May, and was well underway when students returned from summer break last year. The first half of the school year saw teachers and students working in cramped, makeshift spaces — one eighth grade science class operated out of the staff room — but folks generally kept a positive attitude, Busch told the Times.
Fowler received a seismic rehabilitation grant from the state to become more earthquake-resilient, and the district chose to tackle that project at the same time as the bond construction. In addition to those seismic upgrades, Fowler now has four distinctly improved spaces: the STEM center, the science classroom wing, the upper gym, and the school entrance and administrative office space.
With new 3D printers, freshly painted walls, LED lighting, flexible furniture and extra electrical outlets that drop down from the ceiling, Fowler's new STEM center looks a far cry from the extra woodshop space it used to be.
The space is broken into "clean" and "dirty" areas — the clean area is for traditional instruction at tables, while the dirty area is for student experimentation and collaboration. On Monday afternoon, a sixth grade engineering and science class assembled small solar-powered cars in the clean space, then brought them out to the dirty space to test them out.
Inside one of the two updated computer labs — which also have new LED recessed lighting and freshly-painted walls — teacher Jo Barendse teaches an after-school voluntary 3D printing class. Projects for beginners include name tags, small figurines and decals.
"We can use this hopefully for school fundraising in the future," Barendse said about the decals.
Fowler's science wing used to include just four small classrooms — two each for seventh- and eighth-graders. A large equipment room sat in the middle of the wing, blocking foot traffic and taking up space. The sixth-grade classrooms were located elsewhere in the building.
"And one of them was carpeted, and none of them had sinks," Busch said. "So they weren't really science classrooms. Today's science classrooms, you need sinks, you need portable furniture, you need the ability to get up and move."
Fowler's six new science classrooms fit that bill. Each classroom features a floor-to-ceiling whiteboard wall, and students can connect to Apple TV through their iPads to project their work onto the wall. Traffic in the hallway, now sans-equipment room, flows easily, and a post covered in whiteboard allows students to bring their ideas outside of the classroom.
"I like that I can control the lights, bring them up and bring them down," said Alex Gay, a seventh-grade science teacher. "It's nice that there's individual sinks and spaces for all of them, so they can have lab areas. That helps organizationally, so that's really great. The setup and the flow is much better than it was in other rooms."
Busch said he expects both the science classrooms and STEM space to inspire more innovative curriculum in the near future.
"I think more of that's to come, as our district is investing in the STEM concepts," he said. "As teachers get more organized with what they want to do with students, and as more STEM technology arrives here, the facility will be perfectly setup to accomplish those things."
The upper gym at Fowler used to be the space that physical education teachers would try to avoid using. The lack of windows made the space dark and drab, and the dark brown floor didn't help matters.
Fowler put LED lights in the gym a couple of years ago, and updated the floor this year as part of the bond improvements. The new floor material is mondo, a bright, faux-wood rubber material that becomes more resilient with use.
"It wasn't fun to be up there," Busch said. "The lighting was bad, the flooring was horrible. We have three PE classes, and it's kind of like, no one wanted to be using this space. And now, that's all changed."
School entrance and administration offices
A secure entrance and easily accessible front office are major themes across all of the district's bond projects, and Fowler is no different. The main office, administrative offices and a conference room are now located where a theater-cum-community forum space used to be.
"While it's unfortunate that we lost that space, it wasn't utilized — it was utilized a couple times a day, not a lot," Busch said. "You used to walk into Fowler, and you didn't know where to go. … Now, everybody comes through the main office. It's great for safety and security, and it's also great for customer service. They walk in, and we're here to help."
When looking at the Fowler improvements as a whole, Busch sees a common thread: "Making sure every square inch is used to its fullest."
"We've now extended the life of the building and what it's capable of doing for the next 20 years," he said.
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