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Elgin Math and Science Academy

Not a typical school.

The Elgin Math and Science Academy is a public Charter School whose education model focuses on learning rather than teaching. This interior rehabilitation project is a planned strategy to revitalize the former Fox River Country Day School into EMSA’s new campus. Though the facilities were in severe disrepair, this effort looks to continue the legacy of this campus located in a challenging but exceptional site.

This nearly 100-year-old school campus, which is home to a rare wetland complex, is on a 53-acre site designated as an Illinois Nature Preserve. The campus contains a network of Prairie Style Buildings which the school is committed to preserving. This decision was taken to limit the disruption to the site and to encourage a connection between the users and the surroundings. The Exploratory Learning model at EMSA informed their decision to forgo the typical double-loaded corridor and instead have weaving pathways connecting these sensibly scaled buildings.

Built in 3 phases between 1958-1961, the athletic building, once found in a dire state, has been turned into EMSA’s middle school building and gym. The different phases were manifested in the different construction styles and floor elevations throughout. The former pool was converted into classrooms, support spaces, and a multipurpose room that serves as an assembly space, play area, and cafeteria. The old locker rooms became a new cooking kitchen, and two more classrooms were created upstairs. The sports court and stage were restored to become the new home for the EMSA Hawks. The design team chose materials to be playful while incorporating the school colors and staying within the modest budget.

Similarly, a 2000sf log cabin, built in 1937, was rehabilitated into EMSA’s Art Barn. An open plan was kept to facilitate flexibility. A single volume was built inside that hosts a washroom and art supply storage. All windows were replaced, walls insulated, and continuous insulation was applied above the roof deck. With the roof insulation hidden from view, the original roof structure inside could be exposed. The east wall became the Art Display Wall, working as a backdrop to visitors entering this cabin.

Being a nature preserve, extreme care was taken to minimize disruption to the site. Extensive MEP systems had to be implemented to comply with the current governing codes. The extent of this work required intrusive site work that had to be carefully conducted in order to protect the Heritage Oak trees on site that predate this 100-year-old school campus.

EMSA’s decision to rehabilitate this campus is the most sustainable and least disturbing to its unique site. EMSA has proven to be the perfect successor to the former Fox River Country Day School by celebrating and protecting its history, architecture, and multiple natural assets.

Construction Manager: Bulley & Andrews (Middle School Building)
Construction Manager: P.Q.C (Art Barn)
Structural Engineer: Enspect Engineers
MEP/FP Engineer: McGuire Engineers
Civil Engineer: Erickson Engineers (Art Barn)
Civil Engineer: Terra Engineering (Middle School Building)
Photography: Tom Harris Architectural Photography