This may not be the best space for someone with obsessive compulsive disorder. Straight lines are in short supply.
Cayman International School’s new preschool, which opens to students next week, feels like one of those hard candies with a soft centre. The subdued architecture of the exterior gives no hint of the squishy insides, where curves and unconventionally shaped doorways and openings create an environment it’s hard to believe any kid would not be attracted to.
“This is the best facility of its kind I’ve ever seen,” said Emily O’Keefe, who will be teaching music and movement to children aged 2 to 5. “I’ve worked on island and off island. It’s so thoughtful about its design. This space is beautiful. The acoustics are wonderful.”
The newly completed building, which will serve 160 students starting 3 Sept., is the first half of a two-part $45 million expansion for Cayman International School. A new high school is being built immediately next door and will open in fall 2020.
School director Jeremy Moore said the approach in designing the school – which was done by Dart architects – was a bit of a reverse engineer.
“We talked about learning first and built the school around that,” Moore said.
Which led to such things as holes in the walls, where padded surfaces allow students to squirrel themselves away in a ‘cave’ so they can read a book or just enjoy some quiet time; nooks with lofts for similar access to personal space; knee-high sinks that are just the right height for toddlers to use; and cubby holes along walls in common spaces and hallways, where portable cushions are stored for impromptu seating.
Alex Russell, vice president of design, said many of the features did not come from the architects on the project.
“The idea of these lofts and nooks actually came from the teaching staff,” Russell said. “It’s a great narrative about the collaborative effort that is maybe not that normal.”
The C-shaped school is arranged around a heavily landscaped courtyard dotted with play equipment, including an open-slatted playhouse, spinning seats, a jungle gym made from polished timber, a rubberised track for tricycles and a swerving path that meanders up a raised knoll to the top of a slide.
Indigenous as well as non-native trees and plants are plentiful and, Russell said, over time they will create an even more welcoming feel.
“This will become an extremely shaded environment,” he said.
Fenced-in and covered outdoor patio areas line the playground’s perimeter. They serve as extensions to each of the classrooms. Wooden tables and stools in these spaces were made by local carpenter Shervin Rankin.
“We’re really aware of being part of island culture as well,” said principal Melody Meade. “I think that’s really important.”
The rails along the patios were constructed in Cayman. But most materials were shipped in. The playground equipment, designed by Richter, was imported from Germany.
Windowed walls in the rooms keep the spaces well lit.
“You barely have to turn on a light because there’s so much natural light,” said Moore.
The construction of the school will open up badly needed classroom space. Private schools in Cayman are badly impacted and expatriate parents often struggle to find space for their children, particularly those in the earlier grades. The new addition has allowed CIS to increase enrolment by 120 students in the preschool and primary grades.
O’Keefe said she cannot wait for the school to open next week.
“I don’t know who’s going to have more fun,” she said, “me or the kids.”