Benet Academy Design-Build Project Provides Fresh Solutions to Connect a New Generation of Students
While churches and schools often have similar facility-related challenges, like adapting to meet the next generation's needs, each one has unique goals, challenges, and a story to tell.
Recently, Aspen Group completed a major renovation and addition at Benet Academy, a Catholic college preparatory high school nestled in suburban Lisle, Illinois. Home to more than 1,000 students and growing, the school had identified specific challenges for Aspen to address:
Create better flow between the two main areas of the campus
Design and build additional multipurpose spaces, equipped to host various functions
Develop spaces that could serve as connecting points for students
Listen in on our conversation about practical ways to build space where students can flourish.
Marian Liautaud and Sheree Coffman delve into how to create high-impact space for students.
Benet Academy places a high value on faith, academics, athletics, and the arts as they prepare students for the next chapter of their lives. As a design-build-furnish firm, Aspen Group took these values and needs to heart, incorporating them into solutions at each project stage.
Aspen designed and developed unique solutions for Benet Academy, including a new corridor linking their east and west campuses with a seamless interplay between buildings. A 33,000-square-foot addition, named St. Mary Hall, includes spacious areas for students to develop new skills, relationships, and opportunities. Plus, the facility includes multipurpose rooms equipped for the performing arts, a 5,100-square-foot Library and Collaboration Center, and a beautiful outdoor space for gathering, contemplation, and prayer.
Known as the Heritage Gallery, this space offers a designated area to tell Benet Academy's story, featuring historical timelines and significant moments. Prior to this project, students were often forced to sit on the floor because there were few areas where they could gather and interact. The new collaboration space, filled with natural light, invites students to gather in groups or take the stairway into the upstairs library where they can study or do research.
Research indicates that outdoor spaces and connections to nature are especially appealing to younger audiences, including emerging Gen Z. Instead of attaching directly to the older building, Aspen created an inviting outdoor cloister space that also maximizes natural light through the arched windows.
One of the feature design pieces is a courtyard labyrinth. According to Aspen Project Manager, Sheree Coffman, creating the curving labyrinth with pavers was time-consuming and somewhat tricky, but it was well worth it. “This focal design point honors the school’s Catholic faith tradition and provides students with a calming area for prayer and reflection,” she says.
A new Library and Collaboration area replaced the school’s dated library. With a fresh look and updated technology, students are drawn to gather for study, research, and collaboration spaces equipped with TVs to accommodate presentations.
Both churches and schools are regularly opting for flexible, multipurpose areas that allow them to meet various needs. Benet Academy’s multipurpose space includes areas for classes, dance, theater rehearsal space, and other activities.
The expansive space adapts with mobile walls, curtains, and mirrors, plus includes special-use flooring to stand up to various needs. Classrooms stay flexible with desks on wheels that make it simple to reorganize a setting quickly.
“The best part of a completed project is watching the user in the space and seeing them using it well,” says Sheree. “I’ve had the benefit of visiting the school after turning it over. It’s fun to see the students, like the Dance Team, using the multipurpose room and loving it because they didn’t have a space like that before, or in the collaboration spaces and studying in the library. To see the students using the space in the way we designed it is the ultimate satisfaction.”
Impact of COVID
Prior to the pandemic, Sheree notes that the team had intentionally created schedules and plans to minimize the construction’s impact on students, buses, and parking. She adds, “In church projects, we call it ‘ministry in the dust.’ We plan for it because we know the ministry has to go on. This might mean that every Friday we clean up the space so it’s usable and safe on the weekend.”
Benet Academy students shifted to remote learning during the pandemic, allowing construction to move forward more easily while the space was vacant. Because of the new multipurpose areas, Benet Academy had the space they needed to reopen in the fall of 2020 safely.
How Long Does a Design-Build-Furnish Project Take to Complete?
According to Sheree, a typical project usually operates on a six-month timeline but can be shorter or longer depending on many variables and the project’s scope. Based on years of experience and a host of building projects, Aspen has developed a robust Design-Build-Furnish process divided into four phases:
UNCOVER: Discovery Summit
In the initial phase, we dive deep to learn more about the ministry and what drives growth or hinders it. We build relationships, learn more about their DNA, unique opportunities, and uncover hopes and requirements for the project.
Here, we create a conceptual plan for the space, with attention to ministry goals and how the build will help achieve them. Within this phase, we also look at the four crucial pillars of Alignment: culture, leadership, ministry, and facilities. Conversations around each pillar provide important opportunities to establish a solid foundation for long-term ministry impact.
Sheree notes this phase is where the dreams, drawings and details come together into finalized plans for progress. Our church interior design team breathes life into the concepts and ideas we’ve envisioned together. There are cost checks along the way to ensure that what is being designed works within the current budget. Throughout this architecture phase, we seek input to ensure the build is designed to draw people and transform lives and communities.
Finally, this is where it all begins to take shape in tangible ways. Throughout the building or renovation process, we strive to minimize disruption to ministry and see the project through, all the way to interior finishes and furnishings.
Though church and school design-build-furnish projects can vary greatly in scope, schedule, and cost, working with an integrated firm like Aspen helps ensure that your project will go smoothly and be completed on time and within budget. If you’d like to learn more about how to create high-impact spaces in your church or school, please contact us for a no-pressure conversation about your facility needs.