School Design: Farmington Hills, Michigan

Steppingstone School purchased a five acre, asphalt site from Holiday Chevrolet. The irony was that core curriculum included basic scientific research where an essential component is environmental study with Friends of the Rouge as part of their work to protect the local watershed from the damaging effects of just this kind of hardscape.

The schedule itself was another tall order. Fall classes would start in just a few months. And one of two steel structures—the 5,000 square foot showroom—would have to be completely renovated.

The landscape and 30,000 square foot garage could be developed later.

Need it be said, their vision for the campus—a welcoming center where students would thrive and learn by introducing sustainable practices, native plants, insects, frogs, beetles, birds and other living things—was unique.

Our work began with convincing a section of parents that it was both possible and desirable to change a vast parking lot into a safe, stimulating place for children.

Steppingstone is famous for a unique educational program crafted for each student. The tasks of teaching and supervision are shared between staff members, and students of different ages are encouraged to collaborate and help each other. The resulting, unconventional layout integrates classrooms, common areas and offices.

We worked closely with the staff, their builder and parents to prepare and check the design. Construction documents, permitting, renovations and inspections were completed in record time.

During our school year for 2009-2010, Tim Nichols was instrumental in creating the plan and working with the City of Farmington Hills and the State of Michigan to gain approval for the repurposing of our new auto showroom into a magnificent classroom building.

He worked positively and productively with all of us—staff, parents, board of directors, landscape architect and contractor—from gaining consensus for the designs to final inspections for the project. It seemed we would need a miracle. But in the end, it was an exemplary team effort from everybody that secured our Certificate of Occupancy in time to start school the day after Labor Day in September, 2010.

We have lived very happily in the result with large quantities of natural light, our essential open areas and comfortable offices and classrooms.  The space is still comfortable and quite functional.

Kiyo A. Morse, Director

Tim Nichols AIA, architect; Jesse T. McDonald PE, engineer; Richard Houdek LA?, landscape design; Mich Construction LLC, contractor