2016—Bellfort Early Childhood Center

Houston ISD—Bellfort Early Childhood Center
Architect: Kirksey | Architecture

Kirksey designed the 44,000-sf renovation of an existing Houston ISD facility to serve 350 students as an early childhood care center. The challenge was to take what was originally constructed as a medical facility and make it a place that is safe and fun for small children. The school had extensive renovations to the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems. Kirksey focused on designing spaces that significantly improved the learning environment.


The Early Childhood Center, is the home of the Bumblebees. ECC is a kindergarten though it also functions as a beacon for the community and an oasis in a bleak urban landscape. The front of the building was brightened and showcases big letters that speak both to the small children and to the greater community and reflects the changing colors of the sky from dawn to dusk. The entry canopy is sculptural and welcoming and creates a presence on the street that engages the community.


The team focused on designing spaces that significantly improved the learning environment. Overall design concepts: maximize daylight, easy hallway wayfinding through color and shapes, areas of interest at height of children (4ft), outdoor learning spaces, interactive elements throughout school to stimulate interaction and learning.


Planning—Star of DistinctionTo transform the learning environment into a bright, welcoming oasis for young learners, the team met early & often with stakeholders, staff, and community members. The meetings were facilitated by a collaborative process called PLAYTheory. PLAYTheory, a word & image game developed by our firm, is used as part of the visioning process to encourage learners & users to think outside of the box when envisioning their new space. The ideas & images were collected & became part of the design process.


The school employs the following strategies for optimal performance:

  • Site: create an urban garden, reduce impervious cover, reflect the sun’s heat with a cool roof
  • Indoor: Provide outdoor view and natural daylight to 100% of classrooms, use low VOC coatings, paints, adhesives throughout
  • Water: low-flow lavatory sinks and toilet fixtures
  • Energy: save with high-performance white coating on exterior brick, replace existing windows with high-performance low-E windows


To make the most of the materials present, the design made use of traditional chain-link fences at the re-purposed outdoor porches. The fire corridor between two original buildings was re-purposed and visually linked the front courtyard to the rear. During construction, the occasional structural pipe column showed up when walls were removed and relocated. These columns were treated with a base detail that looked like a giant upturned flower pot.

School Transformation

Transformation—Star of DistinctionThe renovated space encourages life-long learning by optimizing and maximizing the use of traditionally transitional spaces in the project. Exterior porches became great outdoor learning spaces. Interior hallways were activated to encourage learning. The most significant improvement to the school’s technology was the incorporation of Smart boards.

Stars of Distinction Star of Distinction Category Winner