Interiors Awards 2010: Sports/Entertainment Winner

Gayle Babcock/Architectural Imageworks

project: Exeter Schools Multipurpose Space
client: Exeter R-VI School District
location: Exeter, Mo.
designer: Dake Wells Architecture

There will always be "haves" and "have nots." That lesson seems all too clear to the school children of Exeter, Mo. With only 350 students in the K–12 system, they were the poor country cousins of Barry County. "We are surrounded by larger districts, some of them four or five times our size," reports school superintendent Tina Nolan. "We're a small but proud farming community."

Yet the district didn't have a single structure to reflect that pride. Indeed, they taught in five unconnected and—in the words of Dake Wells Architecture principal Brandon Dake—"pretty crummy" buildings surrounding a courtyard. This model posed a safety issue as students moved through the buildings throughout the day. The space restrictions also stretched school hours to the limit. "With all 13 grades needing the gym to practice sports and performance we had groups in the school from 5:30 in the morning until 8:30 at night," says Nolan.

Nolan challenged the architecture team to devise a solution that would unify the buildings and become a social center for the school and the community at large—all for $2.2 million. Springfield, Mo.-based Dake Wells answered with an 11,600-sq.-ft. addition that claims the existing interstitial space between the buildings, while providing the much-needed social hub the community deserves.

Using a three-in-one approach, the space serves as a cafeteria, practice gym, and performance hall. Flooded with light from clerestory windows, the building immediately impresses with its warm, good looks, thanks to its eye-catching, folded-wood ceiling. More than just a decorative element, that ceiling proves the key to the space's success.

"In any project like this the challenge is making a large space feel small and fine tuning the acoustics," says Andrew Wells, principal at Dake Wells. "This ceiling achieves both." Layered with materials of varying absorptiveness, the architects liken the ceiling to a sushi roll. "The white tectum is absorptive, like rice absorbs soy sauce," explains Dake. "The wood wrapper is reflective; keeping all the good stuff in like seaweed keeps the whole roll together."

The resulting acoustics impress both professionals and laypeople. An amplification consultant hired to add a sound system couldn't believe how low his reverb readings were in the room. Students and town people alike beam with pride over their new structure. "We've hosted benefits, graduations, and a local company Christmas party," says Nolan. "Even the other school districts are impressed.

jury comment:
"This project beautifully interprets the word'multiuse.' It illustrates that you can pack a lot of design into multiple functions without losing personality and excitement. The celebration of each function through change of axis is both understated and perfect. The space suggests energy and motion, which is tied to its use. This solution clearly can be a model for other small schools with modest budgets or limited space."

who
Project: Exeter Schools Multipurpose Space. Client: Exeter R-VI School District. Architect, interior designer: Dake Wells Architecture; Brandon Dake, AIA, architect + principal in charge; Andrew Wells, AIA, architect + principal; Joshua Harrold, project manager; Emily Harrold, project team. Structural engineer: Jones & Associates; Mike Jones, P.E. Mechanical engineer: Genesis Design Group; Mark Frietchen, P.E. Electrical engineer: Genesis Design Group; Kevin Conway, P.E. General contractor: Springfield Builders, Inc. Acoustician: Bruce E. Moore, AIA. Daylighting consultant: EMSI; Jason Hainline. Photographer: Architectural Imageworks, LLC, Gayle Babcock.

what
Paint: ICI Paints. Laminate: Formica ColorCore. Dry wall: Sheetrock. Masonry: Glenstone Block Co. Flooring: Mondo. Carpet/carpet tile: J&J Commercial. Ceiling: reflective wood ceiling by ACGI, absorptive ceiling by Tectum. Lighting: Williams. Doors: Graham. Door hardware: Schlage, Sargent. Glass: PPG. Window frames: EFCO. HVAC: Reznor. Fire safety: JL Industries, GE. Plumbing fixtures: American Standard. Siphonic roof drainage system: HydroMax.

where
Location: Exeter, MO. Total floor area: 17,000 sq. ft. No. of floors: 1. Student capacity: 331. Cost/sq. ft.: $129.