John S. McCain III Elementary School

Buckeye, Arizona

Award of Merit, K-12 Education

Submitted By: Orcutt | Winslow

Owner: Buckeye Elementary School District

Lead Design Firm: Orcutt | Winslow

General Contractor: Chasse Building Team

Civil: Hess-Rountree Inc.

Structural: Caruso Turley Scott Inc.


Landscape Architect: TRUEFORM

Food Service: TriMark

Serving 500-plus students in fast-growing Buckeye, west of Phoenix, the $25.5-million K-8 school is organized with three learning communities operated along traditional age-based grade bands, but the floorplan can flex to an ability-based cohort involving teacher-facilitated learning.

Principles of high-performance and biophilic design such as ample natural light, views and access to the outdoors are a strong foundation for quality learning. For example, providing natural lighting is the “sky-bridge,” the school’s spine and community hub.

Completed below budget and on schedule in August 2021 for the start of the school year, the project first challenged the designers how to honor the legacy of Senator John S. McCain III. This project’s design phase already started when the pandemic lockdowns began in March 2020. Working at home, the team determined how technology and smooth implementation would allow all teams to successfully deliver the project.

During construction, the school site changed as a result of permit review, setting the schedule back five months. To make up for this, the team initiated a fast-track construction schedule with crews working during the weekends and into the late-afternoon hours. A well-coordinated manufactured steel skeleton and tilt-up concrete panel construction furthered this goal, allowing for the school to be built quickly and efficiently.

Inside, reveals and the absence of reveals in the walls represent the numerals 0 and 1, creating a binary code spelling out character traits of Senator McCain. The panels also include integral cantilevered concrete seats for kindergarten classroom “reading nooks.” Additional words honoring the senator are sculpted into the school walls.