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Grand Rapids Christian Elementary 21st Century School

A Big and Small 21st Century Learning Community

Within the context of consolidation, the goal for GRCES was to preserve the benefits of smaller learning communities within the greater consolidated school.

As a tool for GRCES to provide both individual and group learning opportunities for students, AMDG designed learning pods each including eight classrooms, one flex room and two team rooms all adjoined by one larger common space.  Two student grades share one of three pods.

Central common space connects the components of a pod spatially as a core student gathering area for group learning and exercises including instructional teaching, arts and crafts, and worship.  The flex room can be used as another classroom, meeting room or special subject room, while team rooms, one small and one large, offer space for one-on-one teaching, small group activities, and staff or parent meeting space.  Windows visually tie pod components together, further enhancing student connectivity within each pod.  These pods preserve the rich legacy of small learning communities familiar and comfortable to students, offering intimacy and connectivity in a bigger school setting.

A New and Old Building

A pattern of declining enrollment, aging school buildings and stretched finances led Grand Rapids Christian to extensive evaluation of a new model for educational building design.  GRCES wanted a building that would support this model with sustainability, flexibility for long-term use, and financial health.

AMDG guided GRCES through a comprehensive process resulting in the selection of the site for their new school.  To honor the history of the existing Grand Rapids Public Iroquois Middle School on the selected site, the AMDG design team worked to preserve and incorporate valuable architectural elements into the new design such as “terra cotta pillars, tiles, and even a fireplace from the 1928 Iroquois Building.” (Design Committee Member) 

AMDG and Rockford Construction worked together to incorporate numerous strategies intended to improve performance like energy savings, water efficiency, and stewardship of resources; thus, environmentally healthy choices making our new school qualify for LEED certification.” (Design Committee Member)  Sustainable elements illustrate the school’s commitment to long-term sustainability and, in turn, savings that will dramatically benefit GRCES and the surrounding environment over time.

A Welcoming and Open Environment

In early visionary workshops, Grand Rapids Christian expressed a desire for openness and enrichment of the surrounding community. GRCES envisioned a welcoming school that reached out to the neighborhood rather than closing itself off or separating from it. 

In response, AMDG designed a sweeping curved facade and a gracious open lobby area to express the welcoming heart of Grand Rapids Christian.  These entry elements naturally draw students to gather and interact, parents to visit, and staff to meet.  For the Ottawa Hills Neighborhood, campus playgrounds and open green space were improved as an amenity for the entire surrounding community to enjoy.  The site was designed to cater to pedestrian traffic for both school and community use.

A Physical and Spiritual Expression of Faith

It was fundamentally important to Grand Rapids Christian Elementary School that their mission be expressed in the physical environment in an intentional and meaningful way. 

In lieu of dedicated chapel space, AMDG integrated common space available for worship and prayer in every area on campus.  “AMDG engaged in listening sessions where they learned about our school’s mission.  After collaborating with us, they created an innovative design that incorporated the central ideas that shape and motivate our work and devotion to God.  Three areas within our grade levels have worship areas and common spaces.” Design Committee Member

“AMDG, [collaborating with Elevate Studio], intentionally placed a magnificent stained glass mural in the entry of our school representing our school’s history and our reformed beliefs.” (Design Committee Member)  The illuminating floor-to-ceiling Light of Learning mural, as well as a meandering Fruit of the Spirit Garden outside, physically reinforce the importance of expression of faith in design. 


AMDG Architects have worked with Grand Rapids Christian Schools on numerous projects over the past five years.  AMDG provides creativity as well as enthusiasm and exceptional technical capabilities to all aspects of a project. The relationships AMDG have established with internal and external groups are excellent.  What really sets AMDG apart, however, is the passion and commitment they bring to our projects.  They fully understand our organization’s mission, are a trusted steward of our resources, and have consistently delivered all projects on time and under budget.  They have provided a listening ear, a strong voice, and trusted leadership for our community.  I highly recommend AMDG Architects for your project!”

Tom De Jonge, Superintendent of Grand Rapids Christian Schools

As a third grade teacher I was honored to be part of the Design Team for our new school, the Grand Rapids Christian Elementary School.  I can’t say enough about the staff at AMDG.  Working alongside the architects and their staff was an amazing experience.  The team from AMDG listened carefully to our dreams for our new school and enfolded our ideas into an amazing blueprint that brought to life the heart of what our school stands for.  AMDG built consensus among our administrators, board members, and staff. The design is strongly influenced by our discussions and the creativity of AMDG.  The partnership that occurred between the architects, Rockford Construction, and GRCS was flawless.  Carefully working through every detail of what we wanted included in our building, the architects meticulously wove each idea into an exceptional, one of a kind building.

Sue Pluymert, Design Committee Member

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