San Juan Elementary campus building layout. Courtesy of Aedis.
San Juan Elementary campus building layout. Courtesy of Aedis.

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Seismic studies that will determine if the San Juan Elementary School campus needs to be rebuilt still have not been released, almost a year after they were expected, but the Aromas-San Juan School District Board of Trustees and Superintendent Barbara Dill-Varga are taking a serious approach to prepare for the possibility. 

At a special Board Study Session on Oct. 11, they reviewed preliminary classroom designs and building placements along with approaches to the architectural style as prepared by Aedis Architects, the result of months of input from the school’s staff and students, as well as community members and stakeholders.

The plans are not needed yet but Dill-Varga says it is important to narrow down a final concept for a new campus now to cut down on construction delays should the work turn out to be necessary.

“It’s looking more like at least some of the buildings will be replaced,” Dill-Varga said. “We’re looking at what we can do and getting organized so that when we do get the word, we haven’t lost any time.”

During the presentation, John Diffenderfer, Matt Puckett and Joe Vela of Aedis Architects displayed renderings of three design approaches—mission style, ranch style, and modern style—that had been workshopped with stakeholders, including the students, teachers, and staff of the school. 

Mission Style – Influenced by the architecture of Mission San Juan Bautista, this stately design features large arched windows, white walls, red-colored roofs, and a non-functional bell tower. Participants who spoke at the meeting expressed reservations about using the Mission as a model, saying that the negative connotations associated with the Mission’s treatment of the native population should be disqualifying, as were the religious associations, which were unlikely to be aligned with the beliefs of every student.

Ranch Style – More in line with traditional local architecture, the earth-and-wood-toned buildings are a more neutral approach, blending into the surrounding landscape. This version garnered the most positive comments at the meeting, with participants pointing out that it was more familiar, echoing in some ways the design of Windmill Market across the street, and more inviting, with a home-like feel.

Modern Style – Not as criticized by participants as much as the Mission design, this style found few admirers, with one participant describing it as looking like a generic 1970s school, with an angular and slightly aggressive design that is not particularly inviting.

In all three, the basic layout of the buildings is identical, as well as the actual classroom designs, with only the external design changing to match each of the three themes. The classrooms are modular buildings, which are cheaper to produce than a standard classroom, and have one feature that students seemed to particularly endorse: large doors that can be rolled up, weather permitting, to provide open space.

Two versions of the multiuse room were shown, though both are works in progress. Both featured external serving windows so students would be able to pick up their lunches without entering the building.

While the participants at the meeting clearly preferred the ranch design, San Juan Elementary principal Ethan Stocks said that his students were pretty evenly decided on their choice. As for himself, he told BenitoLink that he appreciated the work behind the designs and that he was very happy that the final choice was not up to him.

“I look at these renderings,” he said, “and they encapsulate my feeling about this school right now, that we have the potential and the opportunity to do new and interesting things. It’s exciting to think about how they might support the work that we all want to do together.”

The trustees sent the designs back to the architects for review and modification before they make a final decision at the next trustee meeting on Oct. 18.

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