Project File: A special-needs design

Dec. 1, 2002
Paul B. Stephens Exceptional Student Educational Center in Clearwater, Fla.

The Paul B. Stephens Exceptional Student Educational Center in Clearwater, Fla., was designed to serve Pinellas County Schools' special-needs children.

This $13.3 million, 99,245-square-foot learning center develops independent-living skills for its K-12 students who have profound physical and mental disabilities. After interviewing parents, teachers, therapists and other staff, the architect designed the facility to resemble a human body.

The main highway, or spine, connects classroom wings and the school's heart — its medical clinic and physical and occupational therapy areas. The steel-frame exterior has a stucco finish with ceramic tile wainscot. Inside, a high-impact board with level-five finish provides a strong wall to protect against wheelchair gouges and other damage.

Other features include wider hallways for wheelchair traffic, color-coded wings to help identify areas, and life-skills sections with accessible appliances where the students learn to cook, launder clothes and prepare for independent living.

The design captures space out of the classrooms to provide more room for storing wheelchairs and oxygen tanks. Larger restrooms accommodate wheelchairs and changing tables. Acoustical tile ceilings, carpeting, and natural and recessed lighting are plentiful throughout the building. Hydraulic lifts help students in and out of pools and therapeutic spas, which have covers that are sturdy enough to walk on when the pools are not in use.

CBB Architects (Tampa) is architect for the project, and Ajax Building Corp. (Tallahassee) built the center.

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