Assignment offers students opportunity to design Laurel Community Center

As Pat Harrington spoke to his mother in fall 2019 about her work with the Laurel Community Center Committee, his mind wandered to thoughts of his students. The Laurel-Concord-Coleridge (LCC) Schools instructor sensed a unique way to give them real-world experience.

The committee was embarking on an ambitious goal to raise nearly $4 million for the planning and construction of a state-of-the-art facility that would host events, community gathering spaces, civic offices, and a senior center. It would be the cherry on top of Laurel’s $2.5 million Downtown Revitalization Project, set to be completed in 2021. An account for planning and construction of the Laurel Community Center has been established through the Laurel Area Community Foundation Fund, an affiliated fund of Nebraska Community Foundation.

Harrington recognized an opportunity for students in his Drafting and Design class. With the support of LCC administration and guidance from the Laurel Community Center Committee, Harrington stood before his class and delivered their next assignment: design Laurel’s new community center.

“I thought it would be a fun and unique approach to design a commercial building,” Harrington said. “Designing an event area, a grand entry, commercial kitchens, and public restrooms are much different than what you would find in a house.”

The project was larger in scope than those he would typically give to an introductory level class, Harrington said, but his students rose to the challenge.

“I just felt that the opportunity would be so beneficial to my students,” he said. “The students would actually see this facility built in the near future. They could possibly have some input. That was something we just couldn’t pass up.”

The students received a list of specific items that needed to be included in the building design. They were then told to add features and amenities that they felt would benefit the community and facility in the long run. Finally, they brought their designs to life with computer software.  Throughout the process, Harrington was surprised to see how differently each student approached the task.

“Some built and populated whole areas before adding in the others,” he said. “Others tried to get to the total square footage of the building and then made the pieces fit in that space after. None of them really had designs that could be considered copies of each other, but rather, each one of them had distinct elements.”

Members of the Laurel Community Center Committee knew they couldn’t pass up the opportunity to learn more about students’ dreams for the space and invited them to present their design concepts in person in October 2019. Laurel Community Foundation Fund Advisory Committee member Jim Recob said the level of detail and professionalism displayed by the students was extraordinary.

“We were very impressed with the ideas the students came up with,” Recob said. “We used their design as our rough draft we presented to the architects. The architects agreed that it’s a great basis for our new community center and look forward to working with the students.”

Student Cody Martin said the project was amazing and “allowed me to be my creative self,” while classmate Amanda Rogers said Harrington freed students to express themselves through their designs.

“Mr. Harrington gave us full control of the project and that’s why all of us had such different thoughts and ideas, some of which I would have never thought of,” said student Amanda Rogers. “Toward the end of the project, we all put our heads together to come up with what we felt was the best outcome. I’m proud to say I was able to be a part of this and help. I’m excited to see what comes of it and am hoping for the best.”

Laurel-Concord-Coleridge Superintendent Jeremy Christiansen expressed support for student involvement in the Laurel Community Center Project.

“It’s exciting that Mr. Harrington and his students have engaged in a project that provides for meaningful application and practice of the knowledge and skills that students are developing,” Christiansen said. “LCC is committed to seeking and developing community partnership opportunities, such as this project, that promote and develop life-long values of service to community and civic engagement. The opportunity for these LCC students to partner with this project ultimately helped them to develop and expand their understanding of and capacity for active participation in our community.”