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Little star montessori

School Building Design in Winthrop

6000 SF

Little Star Montessori School’s expanded campus and new 6,000 sf Infant and Toddler Building in eastern Washington’s Methow Valley are tailor-made to suit the community’s youngest children. The new building and playground double the school’s size and capacity to serve the valley’s growing community of young working families.

Dedicated to the Reggio Emilia philosophy of architecture as the “third teacher,” the facility accommodates three classrooms, administrative offices, and an activity room called the Active Space. Interior spaces are filled with light and have strong visual and physical connections to the playground and beautiful mountain landscape beyond. Areas for both active and quiet play are arranged so that children of different ages may observe and learn from each other. The Active Space opens directly out to a large grassy oval known as the “All School Circle Time” lawn. Here, the entire school may gather to share and celebrate, making children feel the value of community. In response to local historicist design guidelines, simple gable forms echo local barns, arranged to protect the playground from a busy road to the north. The opaque, wood-clad gable forms are held together by a more “porous,” flat-roofed element containing circulation. Acting as connective tissue for the building, the circulation bar’s vibrant yellow color and many windows and doors welcome the community in.

The Little Star community was committed to creating a building and grounds that model sustainable development practices in a community with few examples. Despite a tight budget, many of the project’s sustainability goals were achieved. These include an enhanced thermal envelope, efficient air-to-air heat pumps, high-quality insulated windows, shading at glazing and operable windows for passive cooling, extensive daylighting at interiors, daylight harvesting, low-VOC finishes at interiors, native and drought-tolerant plantings, and filtration of all storm-water on-site. Solar panels have been recently approved for installation on the building’s roof and will bring the building to net-zero energy consumption.


In 2016, building upon findings from a 2013 Feasibility Study and an extensive programming/visioning effort conducted by Prentiss + Balance + Wickline, Little Star Montessori’s board of directors requested a master plan to guide them as they “grow down” to accommodate new infant and early toddler programs. The result of this endeavor is a new building to accommodate the school’s expanding program. 

With an emphasis on natural light and playful spaces, the new building works in concert with the existing structure and a significant tree to create a large, centralized open space. A landscape design produced in collaboration with Swift Company reimagines playgrounds, gardens, and site circulation. 

Dialog with stakeholders culminated in a design charrette where members of the Little Star community created scale models and discussed their hopes and desires for the site. The result is a new, cohesive campus to serve Little Star’s evolving needs.


Awards & Recognition:

AIA National Education Facility Design Award 2022