November/December 2022

Communications Corner: Annual Exhibit Features Facility Transformations

By Kara Kienzler

The success of a school design project primarily depends on what the district needs. Beyond that, such projects can be looked at in terms of aesthetics, flexibility, security, and innovation, and numerous other factors.

IASB recently hosted a small group of architects and school officials to review school design projects entered in this year’s Exhibition of Educational Environments competition. It took a full day for the six judges and one moderator to carefully review all 17 entries. Whether a small special project, major renovation, or brand-new school facility, each project showcased the transformation with before-and-after images.

Each year, architect firms submit projects with permission from the school district clients. In addition to images, the architects provide data and narrative to describe how their solutions meet the client’s (district) objectives. District challenges included aging infrastructures, overcrowding, and the need for flexible learning environments to support innovation, collaboration, and student wellness.

From color palettes to flooring installations, from the addition of social stairs to the widening of corridors, the judges shared perspectives and commentary on a multitude of design decisions. They opined on finishes and materials and considered the use of resources within strict budgets. The judges acknowledged the urban constraints of a limited footprint versus open land with more options to expand. They considered safety issues with sight lines, traffic flow, and building entrances. Energy reduction and sustainable design features such as motion sensors for lighting, geothermal systems, and recycled flooring were noted.

This year there were seven projects that stood out to the judges as deserving of award recognition. All project entries will be on display November 18-20 at the Joint Annual Conference in Chicago. Here is a sample of some of the projects on display:
  • An enlarged and renovated middle school cafeteria that can transform into a venue to host after-school poetry slams and wrestling matches.
  • A colorful elementary school with learning nooks carved into the hallways.
  • A high school that glows throughout the community at night with multicolored LED exterior lighting.
  • A media center in a new elementary school that includes a slide to add some fun for students.
  • A building program implemented across two separate campuses, each with its own distinct personality.
  • Wetlands converted to a solar array that provides educational opportunities and supports the district’s goals of financial and environmental stewardship.
  • Revitalization of an elementary school that sat dormant in a community for a decade.
  • A new black box theater to reinforce a high school’s focus on the arts.
  • A high school renovation that transforms classrooms into an advanced manufacturing lab to represent the first step in a district’s investment in CTE.
  • A STEM facility addition that features a gravity deck catwalk for physics-based projects.
  • A student commons area to link learning, foster connection, and promote wellness.

For anyone researching or planning a school facility design, IASB maintains a data file with over 650 school design projects submitted over the 35 years of the annual Exhibition of Educational Environments competition. The collection contains data, illustrations, and commentary, and search parameters include student capacity, county, district name, grade levels housed, or specific use.

Details about the competition, sponsored by IASB Service Associates, and this year’s award winners are available at If you are attending the Joint Annual Conference take a moment to view the Exhibition of Educational Environments displays for ideas and inspiration.

Kara Kienzler is IASB Associate Executive Director for Communications and Production Services. To view a video in which judges share their thoughts on the 2022 competition, visit the Journal resources page at