Prep renovations make flexible classrooms possible

Glass walls, desks with built-in whiteboards and flexible furniture configurations are some of the notable hallmarks of the revitalization of learning spaces in the historic Parkin Building at the Prep School, which re-opened to students in January.
“The second-floor space now supports the transparent, collegial teaching and learning experiences we wish to offer,” says Head of the Preparatory School Tanya Sweeney.

Thanks to a generous signature gift by a UCC family, the renovations mark a major milestone for the heritage building, which was originally completed in 1923 and named for Sir George Parkin, the principal who first established a junior school at Upper Canada College. The cornerstone for the Parkin Building, which was initially a standalone structure, was laid in 1922 by Ontario’s Lieutenant-Governor, Sir Henry Cockshutt.

Sweeney and Steve Thuringer, UCC’s director of facilities, worked closely with a team of staff and faculty and with the architectural firm, Pilon Architects, to ensure the learning spaces met the needs and vision of the users. Challenges along the way included meeting today’s fire code and replicating the old, leaded glass windows as closely as possible with thermal panes.

The result is a space that is airy and modern, says Sweeney, with references made to the past in the windows, the exposed brick and the coved ceilings. Tina Brunelle, the Year 6 form adviser and the Prep’s French subject coordinator, calls it “a gorgeous, well thought-out space.

“There are three classrooms connected by glass walls and you can open them to allow for maximum interaction and collaboration,” says Brunelle, who has taught in this space for the past 20 years.
 
“Some of the desks have whiteboards and they’re all on wheels, so you can create a circle or allow different configurations to accommodate different learning styles. Boys like to move and this allows for it.”

In addition to the three connected classrooms, there are two breakout spaces in the hallway that are popular among both students and teachers and a large classroom/presentation/meeting space that has an interior glass wall, allowing occupants to create a smaller conference space. In each space there are interactive desks, the ability to project individual laptop screens onto the wall and furniture for sitting in a more relaxed fashion.

“The spaces flow with similar furniture used both inside and outside the classrooms,” says Thuringer. “It has become a modern, usable, agile space in a very old building.”

Adds Brunelle, “As we learn how to maximize our use of this new space, it will offer differentiated and more collaborative learning opportunities and team-teaching options.”

Lisa Brooks, who teaches English and works as an admissions counsellor, believes the new space supports small group-centred teaching and differentiated learning. Boys who need quiet space to work can put on noise-cancelling headphones and concentrate, while others can pair up or work in groups.

Because the furniture is so mobile, Brooks ensures the boys help her return the space to an orderly layout before her Year 6 English class is through.

“We have to take responsibility for our shared environment,” she says. “I want them to treat it with respect, so I have to model what we expect from them.”

Sweeney notes that everyone is easing into the new space. She wants to ensure that everyone is comfortable with the new traffic flow, storage options and routines as a precursor to other changes.

“In general, the College as a whole is trying to create conditions so that all learners in each building collaborate across grade levels and divisions,” Sweeney says. “This renovated space is meant to be a prototype for future revitalization efforts here.”
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