Keystone Oaks School District News Article

Students prepare final presentation for the Energy Innovation Center’s courtyard

After months of hard work and shuttling between the former Connelly Trade School and Keystone Oak’s S.T.E.A.M. ROOM, our very own high school students have finished their design for the new courtyard. Back in the fall, teacher Mr. Jeff Oestreich approached students he felt would be interested in architecture, design, and sustainability.
The group is a collective group, full of students from grades 9-12 and a wide range of specialties and interests. Before that, the former trade school, now the Energy Innovation Center, decided to open the design process to high school students in the Pittsburgh area. Aside from Keystone Oaks, other schools included Carlynton, Quaker Valley, and South Fayette. Their project was to create a design layout for the building’s new courtyard and entrance.
“It’s a great chance for students to learn about environmental issues, computer design software, and what buildings in Pittsburgh will now have to offer as students approach adulthood and begin the job search.” said Oestreich.
When students first arrived to get ideas, they were presented with a blank, and extremely crooked canvas. Previous landscaping had left the area prone to soil erosion, caused by the amount of rainfall the lot is exposed to. Uneven soil distribution and movement of seeds created the lot to become overgrown and impossible to care for.
“We had been given an upside down garden plot, and it is our job to make it into something beautiful. By the end of the presentation, I feel we will have succeeded in that,” said participating student and freshman Caitlin Workmaster. “I’ve enjoyed working with my classmates and collaborating together to come up with a design.”
The biggest challenge the students wanted to tackle was finding a way to create a landscape on the slanted surface, but still look admirable. The design includes ramps, to allow the design to be appropriate under the A.D.A. regulations, plants to absorb the excess rainfall, yellow bridges mimicking the ones you see downtown, and small tables where employees can sit and view the city. The main feature sits in the middle of the garden and is a water feature that will help eliminate background noise of the streets nearby; the fountain will have running water colored to mirror the pipes found inside the E.I.C. building and sit upon a metallic structure to give it a modern effect.
In December, the students from the attending schools toured the building and surrounding area to gather inspiration for the courtyard design. They identified key elements in what they wanted to use, including exposed pipes, bridges (to represents Pittsburgh’s river and bridge relationship), water absorbing plant material, and the idea behind sustainable and ‘green’ mentalities. The students worked for a few weeks gathering ideas to create their own layout until they met with the other schools to collaborate and combine their ideas. After more time for brainstorming, the students collectively agreed upon a design to present to the Energy Innovation Center’s Design team. Fast forward to March and students are preparing their final presentation, which will be given on Monday, March 14th. The presentation will include both a 2D and 3D model, as well as a quick speech illustrating the details of the design.
Students working on the project, as well as peers interested in design, believe this was one of the most interesting projects they have ever heard of in school.
“It’s fun to just pretend like the design you make up will turn into something real, but when it’s actually a possibility, there’s a much higher level of motivation to work hard so you see your design take shape,” said junior Courteney Stanley, who is not involved in the project.
“The building (Connelly Trade School/E.I.C. building) itself was amazing to get a chance to tour. It had great views of the city, as well as ‘green’ tech that no other building in the city has. I’m really thrilled to have the chance to put my own ideas into something that makes Pittsburgh a cleaner and more impressive city,” said Cameron Wilson, a freshman participating on the design team.
“These students brought so many creative ideas to the table. We had suggestions for art sculptures, water features, fencing, plant materials.... really every aspect of this plan was thought about meticulously until the design was completed,” Oestreich said.
“It’s interesting to see what we learn in school can be applied to the real world. I can’t wait to see if our hard work pays off,” Workmaster finished.
Take the quick trip out to the Hill District to witness the constructions from beginning to end to witness how student’s ideas really can come to life- you just have to find out where.

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