The design of the new Conn Elementary School reflects its identity as an entrepreneurial magnet school, leveraging the building itself as a teaching tool and featuring varied spaces for collaboration and independent learning. Serving 750 students from pre-K to fifth grade, the new school represents a significant transformation from the existing facility, which lacked a prominent main entry and struggled with challenges related to wayfinding, security, and meeting the needs of today’s students. Throughout the reimagined facility, selectively exposed building systems provide opportunities to inform students about the built environment, while a playful color palette of yellow, blue, orange, and purple reinforce the school colors and brand.

As an elementary school, one of Conn’s most unique components is their maker space, in which students can experiment and explore concepts.

A bold new entrance featuring a yellow metal-clad canopy greets students, staff, and visitors and sets the stage for the improved entry experience. With the school offices, administrative suite, and reception located directly adjacent to the new entry, wayfinding and security are enhanced and allow for controlled guest entry. Student input also shaped the design solution, with special classrooms for art, dance, music, and drama located on the main floor based on their feedback. Other shared learning and social spaces such as the media center, gym, and cafeteria complete the main floor program.

Central to the school’s goals for an entrepreneurial learning environment, the classrooms, media center, and interspersed collaboration commons are intended to inspire critical thinking and promote teamwork. Supporting visual connectivity through the building, the media center is a double height space with views to and from the monumental stair and second level corridor. This emphasis on transparency puts learning on display and allows both borrowed and direct natural light to reach the media center. Colorful “nooks” within the center provide opportunities for students to curl up and read independently.

Conn Elementary School in Raleigh, North Carolina; rendering by Clark NexsenCollaboration and learning commons are located adjacent to classroom groups and near stair circulation, enabling easy access for group work as students and teachers move through the building. Flexible furniture, monitors, and marker boards facilitate a variety of learning opportunities. As an elementary school, one of Conn’s most unique components is their maker space, in which students can experiment and explore concepts.

The building works with the site, stepping up as the grade rises from front to back and capitalizing on this elevation change to gain direct exterior access for more interior spaces. A monumental stair in the main lobby connects the entry to the second level, where a corridor connects the two classroom wings. A courtyard framed by these wings is home to a variety of outdoor experience spaces, including the school’s storytelling chair and stools, outdoor amphitheater, outdoor classrooms, diverse play areas for different grades and special needs students, and the beloved butterfly garden.