Reeds Spring Middle School

Architect: Dake Wells Architecture

Owner: Reeds Spring R-IV School District

Location: Reeds Spring, Missouri

Category: Design excellence

A collaborative planning process helped shift its focus to preservation.

Rather than employ conventional site preparation methods that scrape, flatten, and often destroy a location’s natural character, this new school in Reeds Spring, Missouri, was placed strategically at the edge of a wooded area to flow gracefully down an existing ravine. The preservation of the site clearly informed the design solution, which echoes common elements found throughout the surrounding landscape.

The project is part of the school district’s effort to unify its campus on one contiguous piece of property. It purchased 150 acres of undeveloped land that separated the high school from three elementary schools, and selected the land as the site of its new middle school. Initially, the district was in favor of conventional methods for clearing the land. However, a collaborative planning process helped shift its focus to preservation, but only if doing so could save money. A cost analysis proved that while initial construction costs would be higher, the school’s ability to capture daylight, divert stormwater runoff, and minimize exterior walls would reduce operating costs. In addition, the new school’s location allowed all five of the district’s schools to be connected by a new ring road that significantly reduces annual bus travel.

“This is an incredibly contextual, powerful landscape, and the building suits it so well." Jury comment  

The team found inspiration in four hallmarks of the Ozark landscape: the cave, the bluff, the stream, and the shed. A retaining wall—the bluff—is the continuous element running through the school that allows for construction into the hillside. Two large openings in it—the caves—offer access to a competition gymnasium and a 1,000-seat performing arts center buried in the hillside; both double as tornado safe rooms. In the central atrium, a three-story cascading stair and common area evoke the stream and offer students a place to socialize. The classroom wing—the shed—is the only visible element of construction and is home to the school’s evolving learning spaces.

"This project adds to the dialogue around how architecture responds to middle schoolers and their specific needs.” - Jury comment

By piloting new teaching methods and being the first in Missouri to provide mobile devices to every student, the district had long been seen as an innovator, but its existing school buildings were not reflective of its ingenuity. The design of Reeds Spring Middle School elevates the district’s push for technology integration, collaborative learning environments, and tornado safety under one roof.

Additional information

Project team

Consultant - Acoustics: Bruce E. Moore, AIA

Consultant - Energy: Group 14 Engineering

Consultant - Estimating: Professional Project Management, LLC

Engineer - Civil: White River Engineering

Engineer - MEP: Malicoat-Winslow Engineers

Engineer - Structural: Mettemeyer Engineers

Engineer - Traffic: CJW Transportation

General Contractor: DeWitt & Associates


Judith P. Hoskens, Assoc. AIA, (Chair), Cuningham Group Architecture, Inc.  

Malcolm Holzman, FAIA, Holzman Moss Bottino Architecture

Dina Sorensen, Assoc. AIA, Learning Environment Project Designer & Research Liaison

Lawrence W. Speck, FAIA, Page Southerland Page, Inc.

Amy Yurko, AIA, BrainSpaces Inc.

Image credits

Reeds Springs Middle School exterior

Gayle Babcock, Architectural Imageworks, LLC

Bus drop-off at south entrance

Gayle Babcock, Architectural Imageworks, LLC

View from trees, west elevation

Gayle Babcock, Architectural Imageworks, LLC

Atrium view looking south

Gayle Babcock, Architectural Imageworks, LLC

North entrance at night

Gayle Babcock, Architectural Imageworks, LLC