The shown video aired in February 2007 on WBTV in Charlotte, North Carolina.  The video describes the Learning Cottage in detail, while also giving an introduction to the concept. The Learning Cottage, a product of a Civic By Design Forum meeting in spring 2006, is a small scaled solution to school building.  The Learning Cottage is permanent small scale construction that is more affordable that current school building practices, but more appealing than modular classrooms.

Learning Cottage and Neighborly Campus

•  Basic concept - Learning Cottages are green, economical, and durable school buildings.  They can be used to create neighborly campuses for walkable, compact, connected, mixed-use, mixed-income intrinsically green communities for the 21st Century.  They offer a viable alternative to classroom trailer blight and isolated factory-scale schools.  For an excellent quick overview of the basic concept watch the very short video clip of a top news story by CBS Charlotte affiliate WBT TV.  The reporter team has boiled down to 2 minutes what typically takes a regular presentation 45 minutes to explain.   Here is this link:

Popular floor plan -  that the first proposed prototype Learning Cottage floor layout is modeled on the most popular mobile unit sold based on our research — we wanted to start with the most popular prototype and then go from there.   As it turns out, this size is the largest two-section unit that can be legally transported on roads in most states -  25’x78’.   And it also is a perfect size for creating human scale public spaces that include landscaped and edible schoolyard courts and outdoor theater-in-the-round spaces at each end.  But we anticipate all sorts of variation once they basic concept moves forward.  Clearly our preference is to build them locally as permanent structures to support local economies and school facility needs; and community and parent surveys show that “even a whiff of trailer” modular units is perceived as negative.

Economic cost - The Learning Cottages are twice the cost of the most cheap trailers, but half the cost of brick and mortar factory schools.   This is a middle ground price solution which is big void right now.  How ever learning Cottages are much more versatile for incremental growth – i.e. grow schools – communities don’t have to withstand years of overcrowding and trailer farms to get started. 

Efficient land use - The neighborly campus quadrangle layout of open-ended courtyards saves land. For example, a 600 student school with soccer and baseball field fits on 4 1/2 acres  - less than a 1/3 of standard suburban elementary school requirements.  These are not packed together side by side like trailers but still are very efficient and, in addition, offer each student direct access to green space.  They can be 1-2-3 stories too for double or triple the number of students in the same amount of space.

•  Healthy –  Natural daylight and cross ventilation are provided by the 12’ ceilings and lots of big windows, direct views of green space (yes, daydreaming out windows is important again), and intimate window box reading nooks for quality kid- scale spaces.  The neighborly campuses are mbedded into neighborhoods so kids can walk/bike to school.  Yes, kids will need to walk outside between buildings but as one grandparent said “What are they going to do melt?!  They need to get outside!” Children must overcome nature deficit syndrome! We also have a design with covered walkways.

•  Attractive – Civic by design to fit into regular neighborhoods and/or hip developments, the scale and character allow schools to be embedded into neighborhoods again as desirable community centers.  Three aesthetically appealing alternate elevations are designed so far for a traditional, coastal, and national moderne architecture character.

•  Green – A Learning Cottage campus incorporates the most intrinsic and high-tech green components into the building along with Light Imprint infrastructure into the site plans.   They can be designed with efficiencies: 1. Electricity: Off- grid and/or give back to the power grid; 2. Water:  Efficient/give back to the water source.   Learning Cottage construction can use recycled metal for framing studs.  There is a company in NC that already does this for affordable housing.  i.e. “How many recycled SUVs does it take to to build a Learning Cottage?”  The answer is seven.

Secure -  The Learning Cottages are designed to be embedded into the neighborhood again, surrounding by housing and  a variety of uses so they are secure through eyes on the street.  They're also designed to flexibly accommodate other uses, so they can be used throughout the day and night, not just for classroom purposes. Also, by looking at the rendering you will notice a perimeter low wall and high picket fence surrounds the perimeter of the building complex so the campus is secure at the perimeter including the internal courtyards.  The open ended courtyards allow for EMS vehicles access through the campus between buildings.

Why Habitat Schools? - The Habitat model is in response to the recent prioritization of providing local jobs – in Charlotte we have lots of unemployed (bankers) looking for the next opportunity.  And Habitat houses are not necessarily needed as much right now due to the oversupply of foreclosed empty starter houses more readily available. School budgets and facilities are in constant flux, especially during the time of economic turmoil. These Learning Cottages can be a great application of the Habitat building model.

Next Steps - Build a good example and jumpstart an enterprise.  We have aready created and produced substantial design material  — CADD concept plans for classroom buildings and gymnasium/cafateria/auditoriums, with alternate elevations, and site plan case studies.  Along with the video for marketing there is preliminary  booklet that can be downloaded from the website.  The full set of documents including a business plan are available for review at our office.  We are interested in teaming with a pilot partner to get the first prototypes built so PTA parents, school administrators, planners et al can see how nice and functional they are as every school system in the country is trying to address this challenge.  Using a Habitat model of volunteer labor and donated material we can jumpstart a non-profit enterprise so these can eventually be created anywhere.

The standard Learning Cottage building, as designed by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company is 80’ long by 24’ wide. The construction method used for the Learning Cottage varies based on location, type of school, and construction time frame.  This can mean either SIPS panels or steel frame.

The standard plan allows for two classroom spaces, both 34’ x 24’, to accommodate approximately twenty to twenty-five students each. Two restrooms, both of which are 8’ x 6’, allow accessible separate facilities for males and females. 

Each classroom has three points of egress. Two of those open to a pair of foyers in the center of the building; the third provides access to the exterior plaza. An accessible entry is provided in Foyer A.

The symmetry and simplicity of the plan creates flexibility within the building allowing the floor plan to be adjusted to various uses. 

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A News broadcast from WBTV from February 2007.  This clip gives a thorough description of the Learning Cottage.