The new Bluestem Middle School is situated on a campus with an early learning education building and elementary school. The sense of community in this familiar, family-friendly village-like campus offers years of consistency as students matriculate from early education to 8th grade.
An extensive demographic study by Omaha Public Schools revealed an education gap and a growing population in South Omaha. With this population increase, the need for community services and economic development has become a priority. A critical component of this is the availability of public education in an area where schools have increasingly become overpopulated. In 2017, Omaha voters agreed and approved funding through a bond for additional public school facilities.
Bluestem Middle School is a new, 180,000-SF, ground-up construction project The project not only serves as a middle school for the area, but it also is a critical community asset by providing public access to meeting and performance spaces, athletic facilities, a library and digital media spaces, mental health offices and performing arts music development - all connected through a commons space or "main street" within the building for the community functions of the school.
Capitalizing on the topography change in the site, and compact area for development, the design created opportunities for site access, pedestrian circulation, and outdoor programming. The building is oriented with the library situated above the East entry to highlight the importance of reading in education.
At the West entry, the gymnasium is located to open directly to the track and field for seamless play between indoor sports and field sports. The academic wing, located on the North half of the building, is compactly stacked in three levels to create efficiency in the site footprint. Overall site strategies included separating bus traffic from auto traffic for improved circulation and creating outdoor spaces to be used for various gatherings.
The academic wing is designed for 900 sixth- through eighth-grade students and implements a similar, familiar community focus with areas dedicated to shared learning and classroom support, including classrooms focused on art, technology, language, and special services, all easily accessible in the core of the academic wing. Circulation within the school was carefully planned to decrease travel time between classes and to auxiliary functioning spaces of the building with multiple connected levels and vertical circulation throughout. The design team worked to provide natural daylight and access to exterior views whenever possible. The connection to the exterior was an important design parameter for all spaces, including stairs, and circulation spaces, not only in classrooms.