Downtown OKC school: A Colorful Cornerstone

Monday, May 19, 2014

by Molly M. Fleming

The Journal Record

OKLAHOMA CITY – Downtown has a wide array of people walking among the streets, from those in business suits to people sporting Oklahoma City Thunder attire headed to Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Starting in the fall, the downtown population will include students sporting new outfits from Gap Kids when the John Rex Charter Elementary School opens.

The 79,000-square-foot school at 500 W. Sheridan Ave. was designed by Tap Architecture. Architect Kenneth Dennis was project designer. Construction started in May 2013 and will be completed in time for the 2014-2015 school year. The project came with the challenge of designing an elementary school that fits within downtown aesthetics.

The outside of the building has brick and limestone, pulling on the exteriors in nearby historic Film Row buildings. The school reaches as high as three stories, sitting at the corner of W. Sheridan and N. Walker avenues, and descends to one story toward Sheridan to Film Row. The front door of the school faces the downtown business district. Colored glass at the entrance creates a sense of whimsy to appeal to children, while still looking like it belongs downtown.

The exterior windows are outlined in bright colors such as blue, red, yellow, green, and orange. Dennis said the punches of color help make the school look friendlier for pre-kindergarten to sixth-grade students. He said the colors also pull from the Stage Center, as the school was designed before the decision to demolish the historic landmark.

“As (my colleagues and I) were designing it, we thought that if the center is there, then it’s a good neighbor,” Dennis said. “If it’s gone, then it will look like a tribute to what was there.”

The building’s exterior also references the school’s mascot, a rocket. The long, narrow windows hint of a rocket blasting into the sky. The top of the building has capstone decorative pieces that look like small rockets. The decoration is similar to the Art Deco pieces on Film Row.

The portion of school on Sheridan contains the gym and features display windows for classes. Dennis said the windows were a request from the Downtown Design Review Committee because it wanted more interaction between the street and the school.

The school’s interior has a tile floor with a cafeteria with a stage and music area. Some of the walls are painted to allow them to be dry erase walls.

“There are a lot of things like that (in the school) that allow the students to take advantage of the building and learn anywhere,” he said. “This way, the entire building provides an opportunity for learning.”

There is no central library. Traditional library time is incorporated into launchpads for each grade level. A launchpad serves as the central meeting space surrounded by three classrooms. The classrooms all open into the space and have moveable walls if more room is needed. The launchpads can be used for guest speakers or for the classes to get together for lessons.

The school has a playground outside that draws on the senses, allowing students to touch, see, hear, smell, and even taste what is going on around them. The taste part will be in a classroom garden, while the other senses will be put to work as the students take in their surroundings.


Photo on the home page depicts an artist's rendering of John Rex Elementary School by TAP and CannonDesign, as seen from Sheridan and Walker intersection.