North Star Elementary School Uses Lighting to Blend Natural Elements with Urban Location for Innovative Design

February 7, 2024 Rachael J Richards

The culmination of a two-year endeavor resulting in the establishment of North Star Elementary School (Hugo, MN), was a collaborative effort between White Bear Lake Area Schools, district staff and administrators, and architectural experts from Wold Architects & Engineers. This state-of-the-art elementary school accommodates kindergarten through fifth-grade students with a capacity of up to 720 students. Its primary aim is to foster a bright future through its innovative design.

At the heart of the school is the vibrant Learning Commons, also known as the Media Center, featuring flexible soft seating, small breakout learning spaces, and an extensive literature collection of nearly 10,000 titles. The design and color scheme of this space complement the natural beauty of the school's surroundings.

Inside the school, six distinct learning studios house five theme-based classrooms each, designed to encourage interactive collaboration, engaging STEM and art activities, and seamless integration of cutting-edge technologies. These thoughtfully designed spaces also provide conducive environments for reading and writing activities, fostering well-rounded growth and exploration among students.

“People's tastes and demands for schools are changing dramatically,” said Paul Aplikowski, Partner Wold Architects and Engineers. “Our districts are looking for a different environment to educate students in, and part of that is making a space that students can have pride in. So, the whole point of this building was to create a learning landscape with a lot of different kinds of environments in it, and that's why we call the classroom path Learning Studios.”

The grade-level configuration at North Star Elementary School is strategically designed to provide personalized support for each student. It includes a studio for kindergarten, two multi-age grades 1-2 studios, two multi-age grades 3-4 studios, and one grade five studio. Each student is supported by a team of teaching professionals in addition to their assigned home base teacher.

In addition to its impressive architecture, North Star Elementary School features a number of unique lighting installations, a result of the expertise of Hallberg Engineering, Inc. To emphasize the blending of urban and natural spaces designed for the Learning Commons, the Full Circle linear lighting from Mark Architectural Lighting™ was selected. The unique circular luminaires help to invoke a natural setting and they coincide effortlessly with the circle design in the outdoor learning area which can be viewed from the large glass window in the Learning Commons. The space also integrates supplemental lighting from the Slot 4 Recessed Linear Lighting from Mark Architectural Lighting and the LED 8in Round Cylinder Surface Mount L-Series from Indy™ to provide adequate lumens uniformly throughout the space while complementing the overall design. The Full Circle luminaires are additionally featured in the cafeteria and reception lobby, which also showcase the natural element of the school’s design with their large windows.

“It's definitely a departure from your standard lighting in a space,” said Scott Mason, Project Designer, Hallberg Engineering. “This was the first time we specified round lighting fixture installations with a 12’ diameter. It is not a typical configuration, and it presented a few challenges. We could have put standard linears or downlights in those clouds and it would have looked more like a normally lit space, but the lights blended in so well with the circle fixtures in the perimeter.”

The entire lighting design works to accentuate both the aesthetics and functionality of the school, creating a vibrant atmosphere that inspires learning. Aside from the Full Circle lights, the school incorporates the Slot 4 Recessed Linear Lighting from Mark Architectural Lighting in the reception lobby, cafeteria, and corridors throughout the school, LED 8in Round Cylinder Surface Mount L-Series from Indy in the Learning Commons and cafeteria, and the EPANL Flat Panel, VAP LED Architectural Vandal-Resistant LED Linear Luminaire, and ZL Series LED Strip Light from Lithonia Lighting® in the cafeteria, gymnasium, and mechanical room.

nLight® networked lighting controls were selected to control the lighting in the classrooms and other occupied spaces. According to the DesignLights Consortium, buildings with networked lighting controls have an average energy savings of 49% compared to those without networked lighting controls by automatically turning the lights on or off based on the occupancy of the space.* This feature also helps address the building and energy code requirements adopted by Minnesota.

Even if they do not consciously know it, when people walk into a space, they always feel something,” said Mason. “We really wanted our lighting design efforts for North Star to make sure people felt welcomed and energized when entering into the school and various spaces.”

North Star Elementary School serves as a notable example of innovative school design, effectively combining urban and rural elements while embracing the natural beauty of the surroundings. The construction and lighting choices have resulted in a welcoming and conducive learning environment for students, staff, and the community alike. This project sets a new standard for elementary school architecture and lighting design in the region.

To view the full image gallery from the North Star Elementary School project, visit MARK's site.

Project Name: North Star Elementary School
Location: Hugo, MN
Lighting Design: Hallberg Engineering, Inc.
Architectural Design Lead: Wold Architects & Engineers
Agent: Davis & Associates
Photographer: Endeavor Architectural Photography

*Wen, Y. J., Kehmeier, E., & Kisch, T. (2020, September 23). Energy Savings from Networked Lighting Control (NLC) Systems with and without LLLC. DesignLights.

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