John B. Dey Elementary School Modernization

The John B. Dey Elementary School project consists of the expansion and renovation of a 107,058 square foot elementary school into a modernized facility capable of supporting a modern primary school educational program. Originally built in 1955, the existing building had what we call “good bones”. The exterior walls and structure were in good condition, making this school a prime candidate for a renovation rather than a replacement.

With Virginia Beach City Public Schools having no swing space for the current students, we executed the project as an occupied renovation – balancing construction without disrupting ongoing learning. While no easy feat, we love that this provided the opportunity for the students of John B. Dey to have first hand experience in STEM learning, and inspire them to become future architects, engineers or contractors.

The users wanted the design to make a large school feel small, so we designed the layout to provide an open, welcoming space that is easily and quickly navigated by its occupants. Classrooms were organized in pods by grade level, with a shared extended learning area at the center which provides break out space for group or messy activities. Each extended learning area uses a different coastal accent color as a means of wayfinding for the students – each color designating a different grade level. These classroom pods, in tandem with flexible furniture, allows classes to quickly adapt in size and space to their specific learning needs to best suit the subject or activity they are working on.

Throughout the corridors, we provided space to celebrate student work – both 2D and 3D, which would otherwise normally be displayed only inside classrooms or the library. This celebration of work allows for exchange of knowledge and cross pollination of ideas across the entire school.

The interior design of the project took cues from the school’s coastal location and proximity to the water. The flooring in the corridors were chosen to emulate a wooden boardwalk, with solid stripes on either side to help guide students in straight lines between rooms and to common spaces. If you’ve ever seen duct tape on the floor of a school, you’ve seen how this is typically accomplished. We believe good design is not just aesthetically pleasing, but also functional – so we loved this detail that came out of our design charettes with staff, students and parents.

In keeping with the coastal theme, the ceramic wall tile along the main corridors creates a pixelated ocean coastline – with a gradient depicting the deep ocean, shallow waters, foam on the shoreline, and then finally the beach. Local artist Onie Tonie lent his artistic talents to several of the walls in the building, creating a large scale mural in the Cafeteria – which adds to the bright, light look created by the natural daylight brought in by the lightwells.

We promote design where the school itself is a teaching tool. At John B. Dey, the courtyard was activated as an extension of the Learning Commons. Inside the courtyard, weaved between outdoor classrooms and nooks for reading, are stormwater runnels which receive, carry, and filter the water that falls in the courtyard and the adjacent roofs. Students are able to watch how this is collected & managed, through native plantings and permeable pavers.

At the classroom additions, the wing tipped classroom roofs give a nod to the winged form of a seagull, which is the school’s mascot. At the center of these roofs, a scupper collects the water which falls on the roof and pours it out several feet into a rainwater catchment.

LEED Silver

Client: Virginia Beach City Public Schools

Location: Virginia Beach, Virginia

New Construction & Renovation : 107,210 SF


Civil Engineer: Kimley-Horn and Associates

Landscape Architect: WPL Site Design

Structural Engineer: Speight, Marshall & Francis, P.C.

PME Engineer: Hickman-Ambrose Inc.

Contractor: McKenzie Construction Corporation