Scuola Vita Nuova (SVN) Charter School Expansion

  • area / size 5,230 sqft
  • Completed 2018
  • Clockwork Architecture + Design were engaged by the Scuola Vita Nuova (SVN) Charter School to design the expansion of their campus located in Kansas City, Missouri.

    Located in the Historic Pendleton Heights neighborhood in Northeast Kansas City, Missouri, the Mary Glenn-Donnelly Center is the newest addition to the educational campus of Scuola Vita Nuova (SVN) Charter School.

    Since 1999, SVN Charter School has operated the “school of new life” on their campus, serving the ever-growing population of this multicultural neighborhood. As the neighborhood has grown, so has the student population on the SVN Campus, creating a need for additional educational space. Sitting dormant for many years, the existing building (a former church rectory for St. Johns parish) quickly became a contender to provide an answer to their prayers, and growing needs.

    Faced with the alternative of a complete demolition, the SVN school board instead decided to address their scholastic needs with a complete renovation of the 5,000 square-foot 1960’s era split-level brick residence. Due to the historic designation and prominence within the neighborhood, the decision meant that the design would face many challenges.

    However, with every challenge….comes opportunity. The design brief was simple – create a flexible, open, inviting, day-lit educational space that encourages collaboration and has enough design-appeal to capture the attention of its 7th & 8th grade inhabitants.

    Given the historic designation, which placed limitations on altering the façade, the interior planning addressed the school’s programmatic needs by examining, respecting and responding to the existing conditions. New classroom spaces where placed where there had previously been bedroom suites. A teacher workroom and student “maker space” were located in the former two-car garage and the home’s living room was re-imagined as the student commons, complete with vaulted ceiling and fireplace. The previously dark basement was given new life, light and views by strategically carving out a new ADA-compliant glass entry point. A new central “amphitheater” stair was carved into the floor and located to unite the two levels as well as to create an informal meeting place for presentations (complete with stage) and creative learning. Even the space under the new amphitheater stair was used for a unique group-collaboration area.

    Materials and finishes were selected to be durable, encourage interaction, and reflect the mid-century modern design aesthetic. Operable partitions with magnetic white-board surfacing allow cross-collaboration between classrooms. Similarly, a magnetic white-board surface and smart-tv’s at the teaching wall creates a classroom environment full of educational possibilities. Surface-mounted acoustic panels help temper the acoustics of the learning environments, while bold splashes of color reinforce the school’s branding.

    Additionally, improvements to the exterior helped to reinforce the indoor-outdoor connection and create educational opportunities. The existing garage door was replaced with new storefront glazing, windows were expanded vertically within their existing openings and large expanses of brick were removed on the rear-façade to allow increased glazing and afford more natural daylight. Exterior features such as the upper level “learning patio” and the lower level “outdoor classroom” extend the classroom space outdoors and create safe and inviting outdoor places for study, collaboration and reflection. Low site-walls created the opportunity for outdoor seating and to create a learning garden that supports the school’s farm-to-table food production.

    With a grand opening this fall, the new students, staff and guests have all been astonished with the newly renovated building. What was once a dated residence full of small, dark rooms has been resurrected into an open and stylish home for collaboration, creativity and learning for many more years to come.

    ArchitectClockwork Architecture + Design
    Photography: Thompson Photography