Spero Academy New School Building

  • area / size 64,000 sqft
  • Completed 2018
  • HDR designed the new school building for Spero Academy to expand the special needs population they serve, located in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

    Spero Academy is an innovative example of how a school can provide K-6 educational programming and supportive educational environments for children with special needs while being open and inclusive to all students. The largest school of its kind in Minnesota, it currently serves 47 different zip codes and 24 school districts.

    Informed by existing research and rooted in thoughtful and empathetic design strategies, key features of the new facility include the following:

    • An inviting entry and two-story lobby with ample daylight to welcome parents and students
    • A central gathering stair brings the student body together, promoting social engagement and practicing social skills.
    • To support sensory identification, the building layout separates high-stimulus, low-focus (e.g., gym, cafeteria) and low-stimulus, high-focus zones (e.g., classrooms, specialist rooms) with a transition zone in between. The high focus, low-stimulus areas have soft natural light and a calming, subdued color palette. In contrast, the high-stimulus, low focus areas utilize larger expanses of natural light and a slightly more vibrant color palette, while still ensuring the colors are not over-stimulating.
    • Non-toxic building materials, finishes, and equipment were specified where possible to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals.
    • Manually-operated occupancy-censored lights in student areas allow flexibility of natural daylight or a combination of lamps and natural light to prevent overstimulation.
    • Other unique spaces include an OT gym to help students develop motor skills; breakout space in hallways to give students a space to work individually with teachers or take a break from the classroom; and dedicated calming rooms for students to safely calm down when overstimulated or deregulated.

    Spero Academy currently has over 130 students on the wait list (the longest ever), which they attribute primarily to having a building that enriches their educational program, embraces the community, and increases the visibility of their mission and program offerings.

    Design Team: Michael Nelson, Brian Giebink, Bethany DeLine, Tricia Paulson, Roy Gikonyo, Julie Robertson
    Contractor: Rochon Corporation
    PhotographyDan Schwalm