Bathrooms, lockers and even the grass will look different, says designer from St. Paul – Twin Cities


Vaughn Dierks doesn’t just plan for the future of schools, he creates it.

Vaughn Dierks (courtesy Wold Architects & Engineers)

Dierks is a partner and CEO of Wold Architects & Engineers in St. Paul, currently working on five high schools for a total project value of $ 516 million. The projects – in White Bear Lake, Oakdale, St. Paul, Mora and Owatonna – provide insight into changing educational settings.

Schools of the future, he said, will change furniture, technology and even walls to meet the needs of every student. He sees high schools evolving towards gender-neutral locker rooms, fewer personal lockers, COVID-related adaptations and synthetic turf on athletic fields.

The White Bear Lake project will demolish 60 percent of the existing school, then expand to merge two campuses into one school with a capacity of 3,200 people. Similar renovations are planned at North and Tartan high schools, and work has started on new high schools in Mora and Owatonna.


Students will attend schools different from their grandparents’, from hallways to bathrooms to grass to playgrounds.

“After World War II, high schools were designed with an industrial model,” Dierks said, “with classrooms and hallways in a hallway, and lecture-based education.”

Schools built today have wheels attached to almost everything, so chairs, tables, and desks can be easily rearranged. Furniture can be set up for a lecture in the morning, then routed in clusters for small-group studies, then moved for an afternoon yoga class.

“Now everyone learns differently,” Dierks said. “Today, we are agitated. We are moving. “

Even the walls are different. Some open like a “glass garage door,” Dierks said, allowing classrooms to merge.


In some new schools there are no toilets for girls and boys. Transgender students have been bullied in shared spaces, and schools have responded with genderless bathrooms and locker rooms.

Dierks’ company designs private bathrooms for all genders. These aren’t more expensive than traditional bathrooms, Dierks said, because the same number of students are served in both cases. Only the configuration varies, he said.

The changing rooms evolve differently. In addition to the boys ‘and girls’ locker rooms, Wold is building a third type of locker room for everyone to use, called community locker rooms. “It’s like the family locker room in health clubs,” Dierks said.

An iconic high school sound – the slam of a locker door – fades away.

“We found that in the metro area, only 15 to 20 percent of students use their lockers,” Dierks said.


He said students today leave things in their backpacks or cars. They have fewer books because a lot of material is online. Interest is increasing, Dierks said, in alternatives. Some high schools want lockers of different sizes: small, medium, or large. Others have lockers for day use, similar to temporary storage lockers in shopping malls and airports.

Wold designs schools with an eye on political support.

Dierks explained that most voters don’t have children in schools – so they’re less likely to support school taxes. “Voters ask, ‘What does this mean to me? ”Said Dierks.

The company designs spaces that are not only used by students and teachers, but by the general public. This means more access to gymnasiums and stadiums, and more rooms for public use, such as community education for adults.

Space is added for other non-educational uses. Dierks said some rooms are built with their own exterior entrances, so social workers, doctors and dentists can serve students without being seen in the hallways.


To see how COVID-19 has changed schools, Dierks said, just look at their parking lots.

Twice a day they are stuck with parents driving their children to school, avoiding the risk of contracting COVID on school buses. The company is trying to streamline traffic, separating cars from school buses.

The rush of traffic even affects the placement of school entrances. Parents naturally stop at the front door when dropping off their children, he said, creating a long line outside that door. When planning a new school, Dierks said, Wold tries to position the front doors farther in the planned line of cars.

Dierks said weed is a design casualty in modern schools.

Synthetic fields require less land because they can be used continuously without needing a break for the grass to recover.

Synthetic turf can be environmentally friendly, he said. There are no fertilizers or pesticides to wash off the waterways. After the rains, they evacuate the water quickly and the flow can be treated and controlled in retention basins.

Dierks said that urban schools, without a large number of areas, are switching to synthetics.

“You can do more sports on synthetics,” he said.


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