Inclusive environments for hearing and hearing impaired learners
As part of an effort to expand its reach, Champaign Unit 4 School District decided to relocate Carrie Busey Elementary School to the growing residential community of Savoy. This new location, adjacent to Savoy’s largest public park, allowed the school to expand its functions and serve as a community center by opening its assembly spaces, athletic facilities, and library resources to local residents. As home to the district’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing programs, the building is infused with design elements that address the unique needs of hearing impaired students, in addition to those with the ability to hear.
Each grade’s home base is designed as a flexible learning environment with the ability to adapt to different and evolving teaching and learning styles. Classrooms are clustered around a collaboration area and are equipped with a partially transparent operable wall so all areas are capable of engaging in a single activity. Each collaboration space is equipped with additional resources, technology, exterior access and a conference room for small, more private discussion and instruction. Although there is a dedicated wing for hearing impaired instruction, hearing impaired students are integrated into all classrooms for most of the school day, so every space addresses their unique needs. For example, special carpeting and acoustical panels in classrooms helps reduce reverberation and impact noise to limit distraction for students with hearing disabilities, and clear visual sight lines allow students to easily communicate with each other and remain aware of the activity around them.
Given the school’s new setting in a growing suburban community surrounded by agricultural land, attention to the building’s impact on the site and environment was critical. The building is heated and cooled with geothermal energy. North-facing clerestories and shading of south-facing windows improve daylighting and reduce the building’s electrical demands. Bioswales and native prairie vegetation capture and retain rainwater and runoff, which helps control pollution and reduce erosion of nearby wetlands and farms. These and other sustainable efforts assisted in achieving the project’s LEED Gold certification.