New DODEA schools designed outside the box
By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 19, 2016
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — After years of delays, the new Kaiserslautern High School in Germany is finally taking shape, and it’s unlike any school constructed for military family members living overseas.
When the school finally opens for the 2018 school year, missing will be the long, narrow hallways lined with classrooms on both sides that students and teachers are used to.
Instead of the traditional shoebox design, the shape of the new $74 million school is a hand.
The palm is the centrally located commons area that also functions as a cafeteria and auditorium for stage performances. Four fingers of instructional wings fan out from the center, with the gym acting as the thumb. A separate music room is being built with state-of-the art acoustics.
Each wing in the new school will be called a “neighborhood,” with “learning studios” instead of classrooms.
Instruction will no longer take place in compact rooms with the teacher addressing students sitting at desks in neat rows. Instructional areas will be more open, with a combination of fixed walls and moveable partitions that can be adjusted for different group sizes. Teachers will move around instead of remaining in the same classroom for the school year. Hard-wired and wireless infrastructure will be placed throughout the school.
It’s all part of the Department of Defense Education Activity’s move toward “21st-century” instruction and learning.
“We’re trying to design facilities that are flexible and adaptable,” said Jose Tovar, chief of DODEA-Europe facilities.
The new Kaiserslautern High School, being built on the former site of the base exchange at the Vogelweh complex, is part of a sweeping overhaul of DODEA schools in Europe. The school system plans to build 28 schools in Europe — all replacements — in addition to five facilities that have opened since 2010.
The total price tag for school construction through fiscal 2021 is about $1.7 billion, although funding amounts and planned school opening dates could change past fiscal 2018, DODEA officials said.
In all, DODEA plans to improve and modernize about 70 percent of its worldwide schools that have suffered decades of neglect and deferred maintenance. A report that DODEA submitted to Congress in 2008 on the condition of its facilities worldwide — 199 of them at the time — triggered a boom in school construction. In many communities, DODEA officials determined it would be more cost-effective to build a new school than to repair and renovate old buildings.
In Europe, most of the schools were assessed to be in poor or failing condition, Tovar said.
The first new schools that were part of the overhaul were built in Stuttgart, Germany, and at SHAPE in Mons, Belgium.
Kaiserslautern was to be next in the pipeline. Plans were drawn up to replace the cramped, aging high school, housed partly in a converted World War II-era hospital, and money for the project was approved by Congress in 2010.
But before the first brick was laid, DODEA changed its design requirements for its future schools, developing — in consultation with architects, educators and community members — new facility standards to support 21st-century instruction and learning.
Kaiserslautern’s traditional school design was scrapped, and planners went back to the drawing board, delaying the construction and opening of the new school by several years.
Ramstein High School — only a few miles away and further down the construction pipeline — is also slated to get a 21st-century school. DODEA-Europe officials “felt it was important that this community have two schools in the same style,” Tovar said, explaining the reasoning for changing the design of the Kaiserslautern school.
“It was a major transition,” he said. “It involved us going back to the beginning because it was a different way of laying out the school plans.”
Soon after it began its robust military school construction program, DODEA latched onto a new vision for schools gaining traction in public education — the importance of promoting 21st-century skills, from communication and collaboration to problem solving and technology literacy, so that students can succeed in the information age.
A 21st-century school is designed to support such learning through the use of “adaptable and flexible” instructional spaces that can accommodate all learning styles, from group collaboration to one-on-one interactions, according to DODEA.
Kaiserslautern High School is about 23 percent complete, the site’s building supervisor said in early June. Workers are pouring concrete from 10 to 14 hours a day with the goal of finishing in less than two years, in time to get the school ready to welcome students in the fall of 2018.
The Kaiserslautern and Wiesbaden high schools will be the first 21st-century schools in Europe. Wiesbaden is also under construction and is expected to be ready to host students by the fall of 2017.
New school construction will be a part of the Kaiserslautern Military Community for some time.
All of the Kaiserslautern schools are slated for replacement. Once the new high school is finished, the old building will be demolished to make room for the new Kaiserslautern Middle School.
Kaiserslautern Elementary School will also be replaced. Plans call for it to be built next to the new Air Force dormitory on Kapaun Air Station, DODEA officials said.
Construction on a new elementary school on Vogelweh, meanwhile, is scheduled to start in the fall.
The new Ramstein High School is estimated to open by the start of the 2020-21 school year. That project is still in the design phase.