Learning By Design

Becker Morgan Group’s vision for Showell Elementary School wins multiple AIA Chesapeake Bay awards

Written by Alison Pappas  |  Photography by Matt Wargo

Worcester County Public Schools recently unveiled the new Showell Elementary School in Berlin — a large-scale, new construction project with a sustainability focused design. Spearheading the architectural efforts was the Salisbury-based firm Becker Morgan Group. 

Brad Hastings, AIA, the firm’s lead for educational operations and the principal architect in charge of the Showell Elementary project, has been with Becker Morgan Group for over three decades and holds a master’s degree in architecture from Tulane University. Hastings said the school project originally commenced with a feasibility study, the results of which indicated the best point of action would be to pursue a new facility. After the necessary funding was approved and obtained, Becker Morgan Group worked collaboratively with the school district and community to develop the educational specifications for the project. 

“We understood the standing that Showell Elementary School had in the community and what a treasure it was. Ultimately, we wanted the new facility to become as beloved as the former structure,” said Brad.

One of the main goals of the project was to create a design that would align with current teaching techniques but also deliver the flexibility to adapt as teaching methods evolve in the future. This led to Becker Morgan Group building a versatile layout with each individual grade level having its own communal areas that allow for easy breakout instruction sessions. 

To maximize instructional time, the firm integrated a circulation pattern to ensure students could quickly travel to various areas — such as the media center, cafeteria, etc. — throughout the school day. 

Sustainability was also a key aspect of the renovation, and Becker Morgan Group was even awarded an AIA Chesapeake Bay Citation Award and Sustainable Design Award for the project’s environmental efficiency. While there were several interactive aspects incorporated that were designed to coincide with the latest environmentally sustainable principles, one specific example is the inclusion of a cistern that catches rainwater off the facility’s roof that is used to water its gardens. 

“When educational facilities are sustainable, the school district can save money on operations, and that money can be put into more important areas for the students. Ultimately, we want the new Showell Elementary facility to be there for a very long time, and we also want it to have as little of an impact as it can on the footprint of the land. Through its sustainable design, we’re able to reduce CO2 emissions, as well as other factors that will contribute to the community and society for years to come,” said Brad.

Becker Morgan also infused biophilia — the study of how mankind has a deep-seated, innate connection with nature — into the design strategy. 

“We developed a spacious central courtyard. We also incorporated large windows in the communal areas, especially the backside of the building, so the students can observe the wooded area. It really ties everything back to the surrounding landscape and that, in turn, should improve student performance by having those connections to nature available to them,” said Brad.

The facility opened to students earlier in 2021, and the reception by not only the school community but also the local community has been overwhelmingly positive. 

“It really warms our hearts to hear how excited the students are with the new facility and how well it’s working. This gives us a great sense of pride,” said Brad.

While Brad served as the principal architect in charge, he emphasized that the design was truly a team effort. In addition to project manager Ellis F. Hammond, 8 to 10 Becker Morgan Group team members worked collaboratively and maintained constant communication with Worcester County Public Schools officials. 

“We have worked with Becker Morgan on a number of projects, and they have provided exceptional work every time,” said Louis H. Taylor, superintendent, Worcester County Public Schools. “They want to give us the product that we want, but part of their skill is to advise us and help us modify as needed to meet our budget. What I find most impressive is their creativity when making adjustments and their attention to detail. Their professionalism truly is top-notch.” CS

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