September/October 2018

Kara Kienzler is IASB’s associate executive director for Communications/Production Services.

Flexible learning environments. Secure entrances. Low maintenance. Green space. School districts call on design professionals to find innovative solutions and “state-of-the-art” designs to meet their school facility needs.

These kinds of projects require planning and exploration, and are a sizable investment for a district. Each year, the Invitational Exhibition of Educational Environments provides an opportunity for firms to showcase their completed work, for educators to receive recognition from their peers, and for everyone else to view the latest in school design.

This is the 30th year of the annual design competition, sponsored by the IASB Service Associates. From brand-new construction to new additions or renovation projects, the competition has attracted the best in school planning and design throughout the state.

It is also a featured exhibit at the IASB/IASA/IASBO Joint Annual Conference. Attendees can see how changes in educational instruction, technology, and design trends bring new developments to school physical environments.

The call for entries takes place annually in the late spring and summer. To be eligible, projects have to be completed in time for occupancy with the start of school in the fall.

Unique to the Invitational Exhibition of Educational Environments is that the judging incorporates perspectives from both design professionals and public schools leaders. Judging for the 2018 Exhibition will take place September 14, by a jury comprised of three school board members or administrators and three architects — all experienced in school facilities or design and none of whom have projects entered. The judging is conducted by a blind pool, meaning that the identity of those submitting materials is concealed from the jury members.

Projects are judged in six categories: new building; major addition; minor addition (under 10,000 gross square feet); major renovation or adaptive reuse; special project (historic preservation or sensitive rehab); and special project (small projects under $4 million or single spaces).

Criteria considered include program/challenge met; how the facility meets 21st-century education environmental needs; design; unique energy efficiency or “green” features; and safety, including passive security design and traffic patterns.

Entrants are required to submit a short synopsis of how the project meets the criteria. Descriptive data including the cost of construction and student capacities is also submitted, and photographs and architectural renderings are provided to support the district’s story.

Three levels of awards can be offered, however there is no guarantee that an award will be made in each category. An Award of Distinction indicates a certain standard of excellence and is the highest award given, followed by Award of Merit and Honorable Mention. All awards will be announced at the 2018 Joint Annual Conference. Awards of Distinction will be featured during the first General Session on November 16.

All entrants have the opportunity to display their creative work at the IASB/IASA/IASBO Joint Annual Conference, November 16-18 in Columbus Ballroom Foyer of the Hyatt Regency’s East Tower. Each project display illustrates the transformation and provides details about the school and firms involved, as well as an overview of the educational program the plan is designed to serve.

Following the exhibit, entries are added to IASB’s School Design Data File. The online database serves as a reference to IASB member districts and their architectural firms to help them match ideas with their own local needs. Information provided by the designing architect for each project can be searched on a wide variety of variables — for example, location, type and purpose of building, design features, size, cost, and grade levels served.  

To date, more than 500 Illinois public school design projects have been entered in the database.

Information on accessing the School Design Database and a history of the Exhibition of Educational Environments is available on the Journal resource page: