A School’s Soul Fills An Architectural Wonder
03/14/2017 07:00AM ● Published by Robert Frey
Gallery: The Episcopal School of Acadiana’s Enrichment Center [3 Images] Click any image to expand.
The Episcopal School of Acadiana’s Enrichment CenterBy Suzanne Ferrara
“I’ve been in schools all over the country, and there is nothing like this!” exclaims a smiling Episcopal School of Acadiana (ESA) Headmaster Dr. Paul Baker. Baker is referring to ESA’s new Enrichment Center on the school’s lower campus, which is located on East Kaliste Saloom Road in Lafayette. The structure was the former Lafco Boats building, a facility where boats were constructed and then conveniently dropped right into the Vermilion River that flows behind the facility.
When you walk inside this repurposed industrial building today, you may feel as though you are stepping into a piece of modern art. “It looks like a spaceship,” laughs Baker. “Unless you read the sign outside, you wouldn’t expect it is part of an elementary school,” adds Kathleen O’Shaughnessy, Head of ESA’s lower school. “You walk in here and think you are in a space where artists, scientists, engineers and designers work, and you would be right; but in our case, they happen to be 3 to 11 years old.”
The ultimate endorsement may have come from an impartial observer. “I had someone tell me: ‘If I were a parent and walked into this building, I would sell my left arm to put my kid here,’” says a fervent Baker.
ESA’s pre-K through fifth-grade students will be building their creative repertoire inside this building, which is an extension of the existing school and is located right behind the new center. After all, this is the place where students’ minds will be enriched in academic offerings such as the arts, science, technology and foreign languages. “All that makes a fully well-rounded 21st-century education that will take place in this building,” O’Shaughnessy continues. “This building has been a dream since this campus opened about eight years ago, and it shows the value that we place on creativity, problem solving and student learning,” Baker concurs. “To have a top-notch faculty, and then to put kids inside of a work of art is truly incredible.”
School leaders and supporters worked with architect Kevin Gossen and Gossen Architects of Lafayette to make this $4.8 million structure a reality. Gossen and his team purposely left behind some of the vestiges of the old building including the pulley system which was used to lift and lower boats. “We want kids to walk by and ask, ‘What’s that? How did they use that?’” says O’Shaughnessy. Baker agrees, “This building is the antithesis of that it’s meant to be, and engage the kids and get them to stop and say, ‘Wow, what is that chain right there? What was that used for?’ This gets their creative juices flowing.” The space will be used for adults for community-wide events, special celebrations held by various organizations and by the Center for Gifted Education at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
There’s no question it’s an uplifting atmosphere. Add to this a myriad of inspiring design features and state-of-the-art technology that reinforces the idea that the structure is indeed befitting of ESA’s role as a creative model of education in south Louisiana. Inside the building, the walls are painted a cheerful bright yellow and natural light beams through the large windows. “The space is like a physical representation of what we are, and it is the physical embodiment of our ideas,” says ESA teacher Sandy Thompson.
This thought-provoking structure is also home to the school’s new chapel, which is located on the center of the bottom floor and, fittingly, a massive rustic wooden cross that was built by the headmaster himself hangs from high above. The building also has a one-of-a-kind library that is centrally located just steps from the front entrance. “They say a library is the heart of a school, and here it literally is. It is a beautiful spot!” exclaims O’Shaughnessy. Baker weighs in, “I say it is the amazing intersection of design and function, and it shows what can happen when you pay attention to both of those; it’s meant to inspire kids and it will.”
The addition also means freeing up much more space for students and teachers to do what they do best. “I work with pre-k through 5th graders on all sorts of projects, and I think that having this space creates opportunities, and those opportunities create enthusiasm,” says Thompson. Shannon Fruge’, the Director of the Learning Center, which serves kids who need specialized reading instruction, says she’s blessed and grateful to have this new space. “It’s an opportunity for us to better meet the needs of our students in this amazing program, and it’s a distraction-free space.” Fruge also says it means Learning Center teachers will no longer have to share an office.
When asked what this space really means, Baker summed it up this way: “On an immediate level, it means giving the kids this amazing space.” When looking toward the future, Baker calls the New Enrichment Center “a big cornerstone for the school. This will allow this campus ultimately to grow to one more section, and while that’s not going to happen immediately, it will kind of set the future for the whole school and for the other campus in Cade as well.”
O’Shaughnessy believes the space may open the minds of each and every adult who steps on the ESA campus and allow them to consider that true creativity and intellectual growth transcends the boundaries of age. “I want people to understand that even the youngest learners are capable of amazing quality work, and the work of a three year old is as important enough to merit a space this fantastic.”