Why This Pittsburgh-Area School Made Time Magazine’s List of Best Inventions for 2022
Part of the Seneca Valley School District, Ehrman Crest was the only educational institute on the list, which highlights impactful new ideas from around the world.
When Time Magazine released its list of the 200 best inventions of 2022 in November, it included a chaperone robot that acts as a companion to the elderly, the world’s strongest electric tugboat — and the Ehrman Crest Elementary and Middle School in Cranberry.
Part of the Seneca Valley School District, the $63 million, 200,000-square-foot K-6 school, which houses 1,373 students, opened in late August after years of planning. It replaced the aging 84-year-old Evans City Elementary/Middle School, which opened in 1938.
Time’s annual list, which highlights the most impactful new products and ideas from around the world, called the Y-shaped school, which is anchored by a spiral-shaped ramp at its central entrance, an example of how physical spaces can impact education outcomes.
“With security features like an art wing that doubles as a storm shelter, Ehrman Crest models the future of educational institutions,” the Time article reads.
The district partnered with CannonDesign and the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh on the design, which features harmonic walls that educate about sound, fractions and energy; graphic walls with animals and numbers; and magnetic walls.
There’s also an exposed section of wall that shows construction materials, piping and conduit (demonstrating to students the purpose of each layer) and a sundial wall that measures time and solar azimuth using a target and floor patterns. Outside are two innovative playgrounds with rope courses that encourage students to work together as they play.
Superintendent Tracy Vitale says when the district began studying its options six years ago for a new building, winning an award was not on the radar. School leaders instead concentrated on collaborating with community stakeholders, including students and teachers, to design “the school of the future.”
“Schools were [previously] built to prepare students for an industrial model of work. Today’s workplace looks nothing like that — factories don’t even look like that,” Vitale says. “We visited a lot of office spaces, not just schools, and asked, “What does the workplace look like today and what might it look like 20 to 50 years from now? That’s why we really landed on, ‘Let’s make it look like a children’s museum.’”
Mike Corb, an education practice leader at CannonDesign, says designers realized early on that schools and children’s museums have similar missions — to foster a joy of learning and empower youth.
“Recognizing that, we fully explored what it would mean to design Ehrman Crest to emulate a children’s museum,” he says. “And the result is this incredible building that redefines what’s possible with school design.”
Ehrman Crest was one of just six inventions Time featured in the design category, and the only educational institution to make the list.
Vitale says she’s proud, even humbled, to have Ehrman Crest serve as a model for other K-12 schools across the country — and the world. Since the “Best Inventions” designation, Seneca Valley has been flooded with so many requests to tour the school that the district has begun training students and community volunteers to act as docents.
Vitale adds that the nonprofit Grable Foundation brought educational leaders from California and Australia with them over the fall to tour the school. This spring, educators from Orange County Public Schools in the Orlando area, one of the largest districts in Florida, are scheduled to visit the building.
“Until you see it in person, I don’t think you can fully get your head around all the different learning elements that were embedded in the design,” she says.
At its core, Corb says the school was designed to celebrate the learning process as much as the learning outcomes.
“Students don’t need to just learn in the classroom,” he says. “Environmental graphics can educate them along corridors. Peg walls can help them curate their learning experience. Group spaces can allow students and teachers to work together. Even aspects of the building — a sundial, the solar array — these can all be teaching tools.”
Editor’s note: HOME Editor Jessica Sinichak lives in the Seneca Valley School District.