Towards a New Model of Collaboration: Educational Partnerships Supporting Innovative Facilities

Unlike the compartmentalized, lecture-based school models of the past, today’s educational facilities are blurring the lines between disciplines and encouraging collaborative, hands-on learning. On a community scale, our school systems are likewise breaking down educational silos to create centers for multidisciplinary teaching and learning. Rather than building single-use, single-user facilities which will function in isolation and meet one particular need, school systems are increasingly focused on creating spaces for new paradigms of teaching and learning and building meaningful partnerships in the process.

Partnering with stakeholders such as public entities, local businesses, and institutions of higher education, school districts are widening the definition of collaboration to include the whole community. These partnerships are creating leading-edge curricula for our students and providing vibrant educational spaces for citizens at every life stage. Richland School District Two’s Institute for Innovation (R2i2) offers a rich case study for this new model of collaboration, community engagement, and educational excellence.

R2i2, a 215,000 SF joint-use facility in Columbia, SC, represents the culmination of a visioning process with a wide variety of stakeholders. The building was designed to be a “fishbowl of learning” in which students, District administration, community members, and business leaders all shared a space with learning at the forefront.

The school district relocated its administrative functions to R2i2 to provide a world-class workspace for the staff, and state-of-the-art professional development facilities for teachers. R2i2‘s students, who come from all of the district’s high schools, study subjects such as app development and food truck entrepreneurship in a space dedicated to hands-on learning. A local branch of Richland County Public Library draws visitors of all ages for resources and events, and the large conference center is available for community use for groups as large as a 1500 person reception.

The double-height lobby which anchors the building and connects all program spaces has become a popular community gathering spot; as a meeting point, it’s so popular that community members use the space as a highly accessible community “office” workspace which anyone can enjoy, from small business owners to academic tutors.

Richland Two’s expansive view of partnership benefits the business community, whose partners are working with R2i2 students to build real-world skills that will translate to a stronger workforce; the higher education community, whose instructors help students achieve both academic and vocational goals; and Richland County, whose citizens are seeing a substantial return on investment from this innovation and collaboration hub.

Single-use facilities work well for some functions. In our rapidly changing world, however, success depends upon collaboration, real-time communication, and connection.  This innovative new model for educational facilities demonstrates that multidisciplinary partnerships can help us bridge academia and business, create a nexus of opportunity, serve a diverse community, and build a catalyst for meaningful change.

About Mary Beth

Vice President and Principal Mary Beth Sims Branham, AIA, has served as LS3P’s Columbia Office Leader since opening the office in 2004. With more than thirty years of experience in projects of diverse types and at all scales, Mary Beth works extensively in the K-12 education, office/commercial, higher education, and civic markets across the state. In addition to leading the office, she is highly engaged in day-to-day project management and design. Mary Beth is also active in professional and community outreach, including service with AIA SC, A4LE and ULI Midlands. Notable recent projects include the Richland Two Institute of Innovation (R2i2) and The University of South Carolina Alumni Center.