Project File: Independent living

When St. Coletta of Greater Washington, a Washington, D.C., charter school for students with cognitive disabilities, set out to replace its outdated school building, it envisioned an entire campus dedicated to students with mental and physical disabilities.

With a mission to provide autistic and mentally challenged students with the life skills to achieve some level of independent living, the campus reflects the school's philosophy in every detail. To meet the physical needs of students with multiple disabilities, the basics of the 99,000-square-foot facility — from the width of doorways to the height of windows — were rethought. Colors and structure were chosen to enable independent thought and learning, and classrooms were designed to foster a sense of family. For the older students, the building also was outfitted with a model apartment, laundry facilities and teaching kitchen to practice daily living skills.

The school's exteriors were created with colors and shapes that help students identify the school to which they are assigned. Smaller buildings within the larger school were shaped like residential homes to foster a sense of community among the age-divided classes. The campus also includes an exercise swimming pool, gymnasium and athletic fields, which will be used for regional Special Olympics events.

The architect is Michael Graves & Associates (Princeton, N.J.).

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