GAP -- The community of Gap used to be barely more than a trading post, a small gas station and a chapter house with tiny homes scattered sparsely around the make-shift portable classroom school for its primary level student population.
But there is a new school building, "Tsinnaabaas Ha'bitiin," named after a historic wagon trail in that community, is making a difference for not only the students in that area, but also how the entire community participates in its school activities.
Architects for Tuba City Unified School District, Schneider, Shay, Pian and Worcester (SSPW) out of Phoenix were contacted. They began a series of meetings with not only Tuba City District school personnel but also with members of the community from the Gap and Coppermine area . Their idea was to design a building that would appropriately reflect not just the educational, nutritional and physical needs of its students but also to include highlighted design reflective of the local topography, climate and cultural issues of a native community.
The result is a building that serves as a school, community and social center for its students and their families with all the modern conveniences, promoting pride and self esteem for all of those participants who come into contact with the school facility and its staff members.
SSPW has more than 15 years of experience of working with native communities in the northern Arizona region and worked closely with Dr. Hector Tahu, who is the TCUSD superintendent, and Ron Begay, construction manager for TCUSD.
Design work began in February 2003. Both the architects and the school district representatives said they wanted this new school in Gap to compete with high end educational facilities offered in larger metropolitan areas, like Phoenix or Albuquerque, N.M.
With a working budget of $6.5 million, SSPW was able to deliver a building that not only gave this community a modern school but one with extremely pleasing aesthetic value.
The building itself is 25,500 square feet and is predominantly round. The SSPW architects designed it so, that if expansion is needed in the future, it will be easily accomplished keeping their current design intact.
The school incorporates the traditional four colors of Navajo precious stones, representing north, south, east and west. These colors are used in the masonry, ceramics, tile patterns and paints throughout the entire school and administration areas.
The color of the majority of the masonry is also reflected of the color of natural stone found in the red dirt surrounding this northern Arizona area.
Keeping true to the Navajo tradition of hogan building, the school also has doors opening to the east, and is round in shape. Its stone trim is shaped and colored much like a Navajo wedding basket. The diagonal trim edging also reflects the dramatic and jagged Gap mountains that surround this school like a fortress.
Knowing that the northern Arizona climate can also be a hazard, the SSPW architects also were sensitive to the wind in the area, so low screen walls were incorporated to help control the sand blow, and double vestibule doors at the entries help keep the sand and cold out in the winter.
Likewise the mechanical systems in the building are a newer sophisticated multi-pipe type to help alleviate future system problems that are often troubled by sand.
The final touch was to have a dedication ceremony that included a formal native blessing to get the school, its staff members and most importantly its students off to the right start in this beautiful new facility.
Leila McCabe is the site supervisor for the newest of the seven schools overseen by the Tuba City District.
"It is a great honor to be recognized for this distinguished and rare architectural design award for Tsinaabaas Habitiin Elementary School," McCabe said. "The building is wonderful with colorful Navajo designs incorporated right into the stone masonry which fits perfectly with the landscape. Walking through this building, you sense a feeling of pride and personal ownership in the children who are enjoying their school days here."
She stressed the goal of this school is to have extensive local community involvement "to give the parents and community members a sense of ownership too."
For more information on this school building or a tour of the newest Tuba City District School at the Gap, call the Tuba City District Office of Public Relations at 928-283-1072.