This is a design project with a public mission, the goal being to create a community space open for educational use by local groups and individuals. But it's going to start with a question and a tabula rasa, in this case a gutted timber-framed, post-and-beam outbuilding.
Here's what the 256 sq. ft. structure looks like currently:
My students and I will research what the inside of this shell might have looked like in order to restore it with historical fidelity. There are restrictive easements that cover the whole Randall-Winsor Farm property, so one of the defining design challenges for this project will be "retro"-fitting the space using (semi-)original floor plans, reclaimed materials (e.g. the barnboards and beams visible in the photographs), and, where possible and appropriate, period furnishings. However, we will simultaneously retrofit it with current technologies and anticipate ways that it might be further updated in the future.
Using a free iPad app, I generated one scale model for what the renovated space might look like:
Imagine a recording space in the smaller room with a podium for more formal presentations and room (you don't need much!) for a green screen backdrop. Again, this is only one of hundreds of possibilities to be researched by the students and decided upon by backers.
Here are the projected financials:
I foresee a schedule looking something like this:
January- June: research challenge, synthesize approaches, ideate and render designs
March (Spring Break): dig trench for conduit; replace roof and any rotten widow trim or clapboards; prep for paint
July: paint interior walls and trim; install new floor
August: install security system; equip; OPEN!
While this schedule will take us through a rigorous design process inspired by teaching materials provided by IDEO, and while the process itself will be enormously educative and edifying, this Kickstarter proposal will yield a highly practical outcome: a functional multi-media laboratory for use by the local community. While I cannot predict where this complex and recursive process will take my students, I anticipate that their research will validate current trends in education: authentic critical thinking and problem solving, innovative uses of new and emergent technologies, local and global collaboration, and the creative production of new ideas rather than the passive consumption of received information.
Who might avail themselves of a space dedicated to the pursuit of those goals? The possibilities are endless: local teachers-in-training who want to produce highest-quality instructional materials for their classes or digital portfolios; the under-resourced elementary school down the street that wants to give its students the opportunity to tele-conference with schools across the globe; community groups that want free access to the production and editing capabilities to promote their causes through web-based infomercials or PSA's.
In other words, this is a finite design project with the potential for considerable and lasting impact on the immediate community and beyond. So thank you again so much for your consideration!
Risks and challenges
There are a number of practical matters I have taken into consideration:
• My lawyer is optimistic that a zoning variance is feasible to permit limited public access to the facility. Since the building is small, use of it should not create significant issues with traffic patterns, parking, or noise.
• The Rhode Island Historical and Preservation Commission has consented to the project, but foresees some structural limitations to the updates. For example, the rafters are spaced too far apart to support solar panels to code, and the Commission has said that the additional framing required would alter the structure too fundamentally. Therefore, we will need to electrify the space from the panel in the main house. I will secure necessary building permits and hire licensed contractors for the work that we can't do, but I do hope that my students will also gain hands-on experience in wiring and carpentry through the experience.
• I will, of course, need to modify my home and umbrella insurance coverage. I feel that I can sustain the premium increase and higher utility rates. However, I will also need to escrow several thousand dollars to dedicate to the repair and replacement of any equipment and to the maintenance and upkeep of the building.
• My existing home security system will need to be expanded to include the outbuilding. A smart system will allow me to keep track of comings and goings remotely.
• I do not envision plumbing the schoolhouse, but I can put a composting toilet in the root cellar of the nearby corn crib for the convenience of people using the space.
Of course, ultimately, I want this space to be used actively by interested members of the community. After the project is completed, I will need to coordinate its use through some kind of sign-up and supervisory system with participating individuals and organizations. I am committed to offering this redesigned space to non-profits who share my educational mission to benefit under-served students; it will never be used to generate revenue.
To clarify: I am NOT raising funds for the purpose of making improvements to my property.
My goals in this are manifold:
1) To give 4 high school juniors an opportunity to do interesting, authentic, hands-on learning that gives them practical experience in project development.
2) To showcase the remarkable capabilities of students with dyslexia whose talents are often overlooked in traditional educational settings.
3) To model for other educators a project that combines many of the 21st century skills we think students will need: research, communication and collaboration, entrepreneurship, design thinking, familiarity and facility with technology.
4) To create a functional community space for local students and teachers (e.g. Robert F. Kennnedy Elementary School students, Providence College education majors) to come to participate in and design novel learning environments.
Benefits, then, stand to accrue to a very wide variety of people both locally and more broadly.
Aside from being a forward-thinking educator, I have tangible skills and resources that will make this project successful:
1) I am very well connected to a broad range of community leaders who can help to shape the outcome of this project and to influence its long-term impacts. I work closely with educators from RISD, Brown, Providence College, Rhode Island College, and area public and independent schools.
2) I have an extensive network of personal and professional connections in all of the business domains this project will tap into: city planning, community relations, building trades.
3) I participate actively in a variety of groups that advocate for students with dyslexia and other specific learning differences. The focus of this work, increasingly, is on strengths rather than deficits.
4) I have worked extensively on my 250 year old farmhouse, doing everything from carpentry to plumbing to wiring. So I can talk Wenger and Lave, but I can also swing a hammer!
$20 incentives, plus a signed print of a student artist's rendering of the plans for the space. To comply with school policy, I ask that people currently doing business with Wheeler limit their gifts to this level.
$100 incentives plus naming rights. I will fly you to a ribbon cutting. You will stay as my guest for the weekend at the historic farmhouse and enjoy the fruits of my garden and my real avocation: gourmet dining.