Booker T. Washington STEM Academy Earns CEFPI MacConnell Award

WASHINGTON — The Booker T. Washington STEM Academy in Champaign, Ill. recently received the 2013 James D. MacConnell Award at the Council of Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI) Annual Conference & Exposition in Indianapolis. Recognizing excellence in facility planning, the MacConnell Award is considered CEFPI’s most prestigious honor.

Originally built in 1951, the Booker T. Washington K-5 STEM Academy was the result of a response against segregation and disentitlement in a predominantly African-American community. Thanks to the efforts of local advocates, funds were also raised to construct both a community center and library adjacent to Booker T. Washington, creating a celebrated landmark site, overcoming adversity and encouraging community partnerships.

More than 50 years after its founding, the school’s original structure had fallen into disrepair and lacked many modern educational amenities. In response, the community again spearheaded the design and construction of a new facility. Officials selected an interdisciplinary team including Chicago-based Cannon Design and Bailey Edward to create the new building. The resulting facility replaced the aging 225-student structure in a largely underserved community with a modern, LEED Gold certified 425-student academy.

Today, the Booker T. Washington STEM Academy project is a wonderful example of what can happen when education intersects with physical environment. In keeping with the STEM philosophy (a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics), the academy strives to educate the whole child in an exciting and stimulating learning environment. Booker T. Washington provides both a facility and a curriculum that help students think critically, ask questions, engage with both peers and educators, develop problem-solving skills and put science and mathematics into action.

The MacConnell Award recognizes the importance of a comprehensive planning process resulting in educational facilities that truly meet the needs of students, and faculty, while also serving the greater community. This prestigious design and construction award is presented to the architectural firm, school district, higher education institution, consultant and/or construction management firm whose project meets these requirements. Past recipients have included Missouri’s Joplin Interim High School, Marysville Getchell High School Campus of Marysville, Wash., and Lynwood High School in Bothell, Wash.

Though the James D. MacConnell Award is a great honor for the recipient, it also has a positive impact on the greater school design community. MacConnell Award jury chair, Renee Alexander, AIA, of BBT Architects Inc. commented, “The opportunity of participating in the 2013 MacConnell Award Jury has pushed me professionally to continue to grow, learn, and be better at what I and CEFPI do for the students in this world.”

Established in 1921, CEFPI remains the only worldwide professional organization whose principal purpose is improving the spaces in which children learn. The organization embraces a diverse group of professionals, all with the goal of building healthy, safe, high performing and sustainable learning environments that enhance both student and teacher performance, while also supporting community culture and vitality. The MacConnell Award was created in 1991 to honor the late member Dr. James D. MacConnell for his significant contributions to educational facility planning.