The Episcopal School of Acadiana has converted the old LAFCO boat warehouse into a new Enrichment Center for its elementary students while preserving the history and legacy of the structure.

“It probably would’ve been cheaper just to level it and start over,” said Paul Baker, headmaster of ESA, “but it was such a cool historical piece and a metaphor for what goes on here.”

The Lafayette school on Kaliste Saloom Road has been open for about six years and houses students from prekindergarten to fifth grade.

Kathleen O’Shaughnessy, head of the lower school, said its students are exposed to hands-on learning, and the Enrichment Center, scheduled to open in January, will have more space for teachers to expand on these techniques.

The building has an open floor plan, with the original high ceiling and classrooms lining the perimeter of the building, both upstairs and downstairs. In the center, the library has no ceiling and is contained by glass walls, and the chapel space is an open carpeted area behind it. There are also spaces for administrative offices, a nurse and counseling.

“It’s just such a luxury to have space you can grow into,” O’Shaughnessy said.

The Enrichment Center has eight spaces for classes and projects in science, technology, engineering, arts and music. The classrooms downstairs, which are slated to be an art studio and a science lab, both receive natural light from windows and have access to the outdoors.

“So much about this building is about light and keeping it open and keeping it exciting for the kids,” Baker said.

The building’s façade is a wall of windows, which brings natural light to the center of the building and the classrooms. Baker pointed out how some of the windows are tinted blue to give off a colored light, such as the ones surrounding what will be the art classroom. He said every small detail like that is intentional to foster students’ curiosity.

“Unfortunately, sometimes our educational system tends to beat that curiosity out of them and force them down a path, and we want to do just the exact opposite of that,” Baker said.

O’Shaughnessy noted the school started in “borrowed space” at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, where teachers had to adapt their methods to limited space. When it came time to build the school they’re currently in, she said, the teachers were able to tell the administration what kind of space they needed to do their job. The same process went into designing the Enrichment Center.

“Instead of what happens to most teachers, which is ‘Here’s your space, make it work,’ they said, ‘This is my work, here’s the space I need to do it in,’ ” O’Shaughnessy said.

Sandy Thompson, a kindergarten teacher at ESA, said the new space will offer an opportunity for children to expand beyond traditional academics.

“Those rooms up front represent spaces where those kids can become their whole selves,” she said.

Thompson said she is most excited about space the library will offer for her students, who are just learning how to read and write. She added the engineering space will enable students to go through the process of building something over time, instead of constantly picking up and putting things away as they have to in a classroom.

Thompson, who has been teaching at ESA for 13 years, has been involved with the design of the Enrichment Center from the beginning. She noted how the administration and architects listened to teachers’ ideas and tried to incorporate them all into the new building.

“That space is kind of a piece of all of us,” Thompson said.

Baker said they kept some of the “guts” of the building to “pay homage” to its history. Some of these design features include the original chain and pulley that carried boats through the building now holding up a walkway that connects both sides of the second level. They were also able to preserve the original windows and have installed them in the hallways upstairs.


Follow Richard Burgess on Twitter, @rbb100.​