William F. Cooke Jr. Elementary School
Hockessin, Del.
Best Project

Owner Red Clay Consolidated School District
Lead Design Firm Becker Morgan Group Inc.
General Contractor The Whiting-Turner Contracting Co.
Civil Engineer Becker Morgan Group Inc.
Structural Engineer Baker, Ingram & Associates
MEP Engineer StudioJAED
Kitchen Consultant Nyikos Associates Inc.

True or false: School buses are parked inside schools? True or false: Fish swim inside school buses? Answer: Both are true at the new William F. Cooke Jr. Elementary School. In fact, the aquarium anchoring the school’s central lobby—fashioned from a bus salvaged after Hurricane Sandy—is the first sign that this $17.4-million school is not your typical educational environment. 

The Red Clay Consolidated School District’s first new school in more than a decade also houses a Lego wall. The main stair enclosed in a glazed shaft is a center of activity during the day and glows as a beacon at night. Student artwork is also incorporated into design elements in the school, which houses 600 students.

As the modified bus was attached to the building structure, a 500-gallon saltwater fish tank was installed inside. It features tropical fish and corals that can be observed through the bus windows. The project team wrote in its submission, “The feature required extensive coordination among architectural, structural, HVAC and electrical designers, in addition to working with the specialty trades involved with constructing the tank within the bus.”

The fish tank is not the school’s only unique element. A colorful, multitextured facade includes aluminum, cast stone, brick and cultured stone. Each material has a unique wall cavity that had to be coordinated and properly installed where two or more different materials met. An exterior mock-up helped the team achieve a continuous air and vapor barrier and spray foam insulation system behind the building’s facade.

“The team broke down each exterior wall section and specific section detail piece by piece to identify locations of flashings, membranes, insulation, penetrations, transitions and terminations as required at each facade material,” the submission states. The process ensured that the air vapor barrier and insulation system was continuous and that it met the manufacturer’s requirements. Establishing the facade’s installation sequence early in the project also allowed the seven subcontractors working on the facade to work efficiently without compromising the integrity of the air vapor barrier system.

The 20-month project, completed in June 2015, was on time and under budget thanks in part to an in-house punchlist procedure that team members used before notifying the architect that they were ready to perform the official punchlist. “This allowed Whiting-Turner to verify the quality of the building systems and finishes and speed up the official punchlist process with Becker Morgan Group,” the submission states.

The team also said it achieved its design intent—“to create a welcoming and vibrant community school that would inspire students and community alike and create opportunities to learn both inside and outside the classroom.”

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