Multiple stakeholders, including the Kewa Tribal Council, the Pueblo Governor, the building committee, families of students, and faculty and representatives of the Bernalillo Public Schools (BPS) joined together to plan the new Santo Domingo Elementary and Middle School in Santo Domingo, New Mexico. The existing Pueblo school was nearly 50 years old and extremely outdated. The group was committed to creating a 21st century learning environment rich in technology, sustainability focused, energy efficient, supportive of teachers and students, and focused on learning and educational advancement.
Albuquerque-based Van H. Gilbert Architects (VHGA) worked closely with the stakeholders and the New Mexico Public Schools Facilities Authority to meet the expressed design goal: “Design and build a school that is an extension of the Pueblo community and a successful part of the Bernalillo Public Schools. The design process shall be an experience of inclusion and pride for the Pueblo.”
The design of the new 50,120-square-foot school, built on land adjacent to the old facility, incorporates a 2005 addition to the old 1957 school, while the rest of the 1957 classroom building was demolished. Designed in the Pueblo-style and organized around an open courtyard, the architecture of the new school integrates Pueblo stories, culture, sacred views, and the village design details important to the community. A stone torreon, a symbol of authority and strength often seen in the ruins of ancient Pueblos, dominates the entry to the school, signifying the importance of the building.
The four-sided building design accommodates a complex spatial program that includes separate K-5 and middle school classroom wings, special classrooms for teaching the Keres language and culture, science and computer labs, rooms for art and music, a library, a multi-purpose cafeteria, a kitchen, and administrative offices.
Inside the building, expansive windows flood the classrooms and corridors with natural light and offer views to the surrounding mountains and into the central courtyard. The bright and airy spaces help to support teaching and learning with the latest technology.
Martin Montano, who oversaw the new building project in his role of facilities director for the BPS, observed: “After managing in an outmoded school for many years, the planning team wanted to provide the most up-to-date and flexible technology. We chose a passive optical network that provides tech access across the entire building from ten locations in the corridor ceilings. And everyone loves the new Mondopads, 70-inch, all-in-one touch screens that enable classroom collaboration.”
More low-tech yet culturally important learning has a place in the library, where a circular reading pit creates an area for storytelling. The courtyard and covered portals can also be used for outdoor learning and informal student gatherings. A traditional feature of Pueblo life, the courtyard provides space for dances, art shows, and other events. The existing school gym, used for community events, PE classes, and interscholastic competitions, will be renovated in Phase 2.
“It has been a privilege to work with all of the stakeholders on the design of the new school at the Santo Domingo Pueblo,” said Van H. Gilbert, FAIA. “The collaborative effort has produced an effective, contemporary learning environment that, at the same time, supports the cultural education of the Pueblo students.”