a place to meet . . . a place to eat
The Exploration Center, a converted 19th century industrial printing house, is Explo’s new home for curriculum and collaboration.
In spring of 2006, Exploration was looking for a new office building for its year-round headquarters. What it found was a 47,000 square foot printing factory. And a dining room.
Explo completely renovated the factory, turning it into a space with 14,000 square feet for office work, while leaving more than 16,000 square feet for creative projects and storage. Explo is using its new home (called the Exploration Center) to bolster curriculum development, support organizational collaboration—and, as Explo’s Executive Director and President Moira Kelly puts it, finally have people over for dinner.
“What’s different is that Exploration can now be a destination,” Kelly says of the Exploration Center, which is located in Norwood, Massachusetts. “It’s like when you get your first house, you finally can invite people over for dinner. Before, when you had a studio apartment, you wanted to have people over but you couldn’t. That’s what it’s like. It’s like Exploration finally has a dining room.”
Explo operated out of the home of its founders Ann and Arnie Singal from its inaugural summer in 1977 until 1994, when the Singals and 14 full-time employees moved into a small office complex in Norwood. As Explo’s summer Programs grew, so did the organization’s need for space. In 1998, Explo began purchasing adjacent condo units in the office building, stringing them together with installed hallways and staircases. By 2006, Explo – now employing 26 full-time staff – owned four office units over two floors and was looking to expand yet again.
“We needed a place where we could meet,” Kelly says. “Not only for the people within Explo but for when people outside of Explo came to meet us.”
In the Exploration Center, which the organization moved into in November of last year, there are multiple meeting spaces – the largest of which is 700 square feet in size and has 10-foot windows lining the wall. Called “The Press Room” in homage to the building’s original purpose, it is the dining room Explo was in search of. Already, the organization has used the room to host conferences, receive presenters, and hold organization-wide meetings for all of its employees.
“We’re striving for a level of professionalism as an organization,” Kelly says. “It’s a simple idea – having a place to meet – but it gives us an opportunity to invite people into Explo – whether they’re presenters or teachers or families or board members – and show them who we are and what it is we do.”
room to work (and work well)
In planning for its new office space, Explo worked with Joy & Hamilton Architects of Auburn, Maine, to create structural solutions that support creativity and collaboration within the organization. At Explo’s previous headquarters, the three Programs – Junior, Intermediate, and Senior – were isolated in different units of the office complex. The design of the Exploration Center, by contrast, clusters the Programs and provides meeting space for staff to brainstorm, plan, and conference together.
“The space is very open,” says Betsy Gott, a former Assistant to the Head of the Junior Program. “If I go to talk to the Intermediate Program, I don’t feel like I’m entering ‘the Intermediate Program’s domain’ anymore. Now, it feels free-flowing – like we’re one big Program as opposed to three Programs doing things separately.”
“Architecturally, [the previous building] didn’t really support teamwork and Programs working together,” she says. “When you’re trying to align your mission and goals and curriculum across Programs, one of the things you need to do is have space where Programs can talk to each other.”
In that same vein, the building’s design addresses the evolving need for collaboration between the IT and Communications Departments. Formerly in separate spaces and on separate floors, the two departments now share a 70-foot-long office, working with one another to better integrate technology into its publications.
“We’re looking at ways of bringing technology into a lot of the things we do with our website, the registration process, and e-communications in general,” says Christian Housh, Exploration’s Director of Communications. “Having IT within ear-shot means we’re constantly having those conversations and constantly problem-solving.”
at the center of it all: curriculum
Unique courses in topics like restaurant management and the science of medieval weaponry have long been Explo’s hallmark, and in the new Exploration Center, developing and refining innovative courses has taken on an increased, primary importance. Situated in the middle of the building, the Curriculum Office and Library literally are at the center of the organization’s focus.
Says Explo’s Director of Curriculum and Instruction Barb Trainor: “We wanted curriculum at the heart of the building so that things literally revolve round coming up with great new ideas. Instead of innovation being like lightning striking, we want it to be a constant, consistent thing. ”
“We have space where we can design curriculum,” Trainor says. “And then we have workshop space where we can actually do lots of building of curriculum. We can build hovercrafts or trebuchets, or just see how far we can throw something with a certain device.”
That the Exploration Center offers space for both catapulting and curriculum planning is, for Kelly, key to its importance.
“We needed that physical space where we can throw paint around,” she says. “We needed space to be creative in – as well as space to collaborate in. Our old office didn’t allow us to do that. The new place does.”