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Wolcott School

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Chicago’s first high-school serving Learning Differences.

Since Chicago lagged behind major cities in hosting high-schools targeting Learning Differences, a grass-roots group of citizens responded to create Chicago’s first high school tailored to the strengths and aspirations of students with Learning Differences. The project entails the adaptive reuse of the Union League Boys and Girls Club, a 1926 brick masonry building on Chicago’s West Side.

Designed as the antithesis to “one-size-fits-all” school buildings, Wolcott supports individual learning styles in a community environment. It provides a broad spectrum of spaces, varying in size, intimacy, and tenor, that can adapt to specific types of learning and interaction.

Ten-student classrooms, each served by a pair of instructors, are partnered with one or more semi-private huddle rooms and common collaborative areas. Borrowed lights connect all learning spaces throughout the building. The huddle rooms allow for specialists to work with one or two students at a time or for small group collaborative learning. Common areas on every floor allow for collaborative learning around traditional worktops or informal social seating.

Much like adaptive learning software, the school itself can quickly respond to fulfill impromptu needs as they arise throughout the day. With learning spaces that could be mistaken for those of a contemporary college, the design consciously combats the stigma of a “special” school. There are no color-coded floors, no oversized signage, and no digital clocks. While the populist perception of schools targeting Learning Differences tends to suggest lower expectations, the design intentionally implies an environment worthy of any rigorous college prep.

Instead of just being a learning facility for students, Wolcott is a learning facility for special educators throughout the Chicago region. The multipurpose room doubles as the James Tyree Community Resource Center, which offers educational seminars and shares best practices with special educators and parents from school districts throughout the entire region.

General Contractor: Macon Construction Group
Structural Engineer: Enspect Engineering
Landscape Architect: Wolff Landscape Architecture
Mechanical Engineer: Roberts Environmental Control Corp
Electrical Engineer: IBC Engineering
Photography: Steve Hall – Hedrich Blessing