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Built Form as a Public Health Intervention: How the design of an elementary school is supporting the physical, mental, and emotional health of a community

Previous research has readily associated the built environment with both physical activity behaviors and health outcomes such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancers (Sallis et al., 2012). In North Carolina, students spend 6.75 hours/day in school for 180 days/year (NCSE 2018). Literature addressing health in schools speaks to obesity and nutrition programming (Errisuriz, Golaszewski, Born, & Bartholomew, 2018), but does not often align facility design with occupant health and wellbeing. “Understanding the relationship between how population groups experience “place” and the impact of “place” on health is fundamental to the social determinants of health-including both social and physical determinants” (ODPHP, 2020). In August 2019, a new shared-wall and shared-roof YMCA and public elementary school opened as a ‘Beacon Site’ in Southeast Raleigh, North Carolina. This Purpose Built Community is serving 29,000 residents including 8,000 youth, 54.1% of whom live in poverty. This study asks: How does the unique designed environment of the hybrid YMCA/elementary school (SERES), and the programming that the specific design elements support, impact mental and physical wellness of Southeast Raleigh residents? Not just the students of the school, but the faculty and staff, the families of the students, and the community at large. This project explores how social determinants of health (SDOH) can be operationalized as two important social-support environments work together, through both physical form and programming. The research takes the form of a comparative case study, or a focused exploration, of our project and population within their real-life context, using mixed methods. Primary data is being collected through observations, interviews, surveys, focus groups, and space syntax. A matched elementary school serving the same community serves as the study’s control.

Learning Objectives:
1. Identify ways in which school design can support unique programs to uplift community health.
2. Compare strategies between traditional school design and health- and community-focused design.
3. Recommend strategies for K-12 school design to support mental and emotional health for occupants and community members.
4. Analyze existing design strategies for health supportive outcomes.

Traci Rider, PhD, WELL AP, LEED AP, Assistant Professor, College of Design, North Carolina State University
Dr. Traci Rose Rider is Assistant Professor at NC State University’s College of Design. She is an Interdisciplinary Research Leaders Fellow with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focusing on how the built environment of a hybrid elementary school/ community center in an underserved community can increase positive health outcomes for students, staff, parents, and the community. She has two books on green building guidelines and materials, and has another on healthy building guidelines underway.

Hal Bowen, AIA, Principal/Raleigh Studio Leader, RATIO
Hal Bowen, AIA, LEED AP, is Partner at RATIO, a global architecture firm. He is also the studio leader of the Raleigh, North Carolina office and the firm’s k-12 education expert. Hal has over 30 years of experience designing learning environments, municipal, recreational, and higher education projects. He guides the design team through a comprehensive planning and design process, resulting in creative solutions that enrich the user’s overall experience.

Kia Baker, Executive Director, Southeast Raleigh Promise
Kia is a Southeast Raleigh, NC native and serves as Executive Director for Southeast Raleigh Promise, Inc. She has over a decade of experience in the non-profit sector with organizations including Habitat for Humanity, Public Allies, and as the Chief of Food Recovery & Distribution at a Feeding America food bank, the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle. Kia currently serves on the boards of the Raleigh Area Land Trust, Habitat for Humanity, and is a RaceForward Equity Ambassador. 

Association for Learning Environments (A4LE)

LearningSCAPES 2021


October 14-17
Hyatt Regency | Denver, CO