One of the goals of the new University of Chicago Laboratory Schools’ Early Childhood Center is to make sure that the children have easy access to the outdoors. “We went through a lengthy research process with the school looking at the future of education,” said Joe Valerio, a principal at Valerio Dewalt Train. “With the young students we found a need for unplanned spaces and access to the outside.”
The youngest pupils—three to five year olds—are located on the ground floor with access to a shared courtyard as well individual 15 by 20 foot enclosed yards off the classrooms. First and second graders on the floor above get the view of the Lake Front and the Museum of Science and Industry, and access to a green roof play area, which will mix artificial turf for active play with live, planted borders.
The building’s most dramatic element is a cantilevered porte-cochere with a glass-walled library above, which will offer expansive views. The project represents a step forward for the Lab school and also a major change: It’s the first time the youngest students have been separated from the older back on the main campus. The existing school campus was already too crowded to allow for further expansion, so the architects worked with the school to identify possible development sites. They settled on the Doctor’s Hospital site, a contested parcel of land at the corner of Stony Island Avenue and the Midway Plaisance once slated for a hotel development—one which neighbors vehemently opposed. Nursery schoolers through second graders proved much more palatable to neighbhood residents, and the project was swiftly approved.
Alan G. Brake