How does a design team transform an aged facility, a severely limited budget and a fast-track schedule into a truly awe-inspiring, state-of-the-art school designed stimulate the next generation of scientists, technologists and their teachers to achieve their full potential?

The answer to that question is the story of South Lake Elementary School, a 50-year old facility taking on a new role as Brevard County’s first STEAM-focused school of choice for the 2018-2019 school year. Our team was honored to assist in this first-of-its-kind transformation for Brevard Public Schools, and we believe our approach and lessons-learned will be useful to others as more school districts shift to renovating existing facilities to compliment 21st century learning strategies.

Being a high-profile community initiative utilizing limited taxpayer funds, the South Lake project garnered considerable public attention from the start. The site was originally shut down in 2013 due to district budget constraints and had been utilized strictly as an adult education facility in recent years, yet no updates had been made to its rapidly aging structures.

While the original scope of work was to cover mechanical equipment renewal, electrical upgrades, code deficiencies and educational technology, our team realized upon touring the site that it would take much more than these upgrades to transform the outdated facility into a forward-thinking school of choice. We would need to tackle big challenges and collaborate to find creative solutions that would deliver the kind of facility we knew the community deserved under very tight constraints.

Big Challenges:

  • The initial budget for South Lake was $1.5 Million, about $650,000 less than the project required.
  • A very short, two-month window was given to complete the project design.
  • This was a high-visibility facility, the first of its kind in the county.

Bigger Solutions:

    • A Design Thinking workshop was held at the beginning of the project to help identify and prioritize needs. Key decision makers including leadership from the Brevard County Public School District, Contractor Heard Construction and the BRPH Design Team came to the table to explore ideas and potential solutions. Having all stakeholders on board for this front-end exercise ensured full buy-in and rapid movement of the intended plan.
  • The business case for an additional $650,000 needed to complete the project was justified by findings from the Design Thinking workshop.
  • Relatively inexpensive materials like vibrant wall accent paint, new carpeting and energy-efficient light fixtures – made a huge visual impact – and were utilized throughout the design.
  • Distracting soffits, interior power poles and built-in wall units were removed from the existing facility to create more open, flexible learning environments that support mobile, project-based learning.
  • Modern technology enhancements – from streaming, touchscreen displays to a robust wireless infrastructure and wireless microphone balls that can be tossed from student to student – were also game changers for this project.
  • At the heart of the project, a new SmartLab supports the school’s curriculum in a fully-integrated learning environment where all students can explore STEAM learning and media arts through applied technology.
  • A Design-Build approach ensured the project was delivered quickly and cost-effectively.


…And a Few Surprises:

  • The principal became a real advocate of BRPH’s Design Thinking process, which aligned with the school’s overall 21st century educational mission. Our workshop findings resulted in design solutions that supported her curriculum and her desire for student-centric learning spaces.
  • Typically, these types of projects are brokered under a facilities contract at the school district, but in this case, it was facilitated through the project technology lead, which made accessing the right, affordable technology components for the project much easier.

In the end, the finished South Lake Elementary School is truly awe-inspiring. Integrated curriculum, state-of-the-art technology throughout, collaborative spaces designed to facilitate project-based learning in science exploration, digital imagery, software engineering, electronics, 3D printing and Ozobot Robots – these are just a few of the new and innovative highlights of the school.

The final construction value of the 29,000 SF project was $2,408,969.20 (or roughly $83/SF).

While this project has just opened its doors, initial feedback from the school principal and key School Board stakeholders has been extremely positive. Brevard Public Schools leadership has already stated that they would use South Lake Elementary as a prototype for technology upgrades on future projects.

This project reflects our team’s ability to achieve design, technical and financial excellence for our clients. Through it, we’ve learned that creativity can often mean doing more with less – and that the use of Design Thinking to help lead discussions early on in a project can truly help to maximize available resources.

South Lake Elementary School of Choice is a great example of how we live our brand promise – Creative Ideas. Precisely Delivered. – everyday.

The BRPH design team for South Lake Elementary School included Architects Nerissa Ramsey and Dusty Lake, Project Manager Jeff Phillips, Matt Buecker, RCDD Designer and Electrical and Technology Specialist, Mechanical Engineer Jeanne Jackson, and Interior Designer Mandy Wannen from Kaleidoscope Interior Design. This team brings more than 30 years of BRPH experience to bear, benefiting our clients and ensuring our Creative Ideas are always Precisely Delivered.