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Zellwood Elementary – School on the Lake


For the past 50 years, Zellwood Elementary School has been a focal point of the local community. Nestled within a small rural neighborhood, the sloping site sits at the end of a quaint country road with vistas to the west overlooking Lake Maggiore. This “School on the Lake” setting and its designation as a bi-lingual center makes Zellwood Elementary School a place of pride for local residents.

The process to transform this campus began with a design charrette which generated guiding design principals. The design team married new construction seamlessly within an existing campus. The program required approximately 600 student stations, a centralized media center, cafeteria and administration – all accomplished in 90,000 square feet of new and renovated space.

Zellwood corridor 4

Although the existing campus was treasured by the community, there were some known issues and concerns that were resolved with the comprehensive renovation:

Wayfinding and Security on Campus

The obvious challenge in blending the existing campus and the new construction became a key component to site plan development and master planning efforts.   An existing 1980’s classroom building remains at the center of the site, with the new classroom and administration wings flowing toward the west and  eventually turning to the north as the building approaches the edge of the site. The turn to the north creates a skewed “Z” shaped plan which presents picturesque views to the lake for many classroom and group spaces. The composition between new and existing on the site forms an internal courtyard that is framed on three sides by the building forms. Features of the internal courtyard include well-defined landscape areas which articulate an art patio and outdoor teaching areas, as well as recreational fields and outdoor dining for the cafeteria.

Safe Avenues for Bus, Car, & Pedestrian Traffic

The design team addressed bus, car and pedestrian traffic by separating the bus and car loop as required by state standards- a very challenging issue to resolve with only one way in and out of the site.   As traffic enters the site, vehicular conflict is avoided as buses continue straight into the bus loop and cars turn right to drive up to the parent drop off loop or staff parking. The design team created an emergency access road which gave pedestrians their own access onto the campus without being intermingled with bus or vehicular traffic. The emergency access road also maintains the same elevation so the path to the campus is now also handicapped accessible.

Minimal Education Disruption During Construction

To provide a minimal disruption during construction, the design, construction and owner team came together to create a phasing plan that would create a functioning school campus during construction. During the first summer break, major utilities were brought to the campus allowing for the removal of the old waste water treatment plant. In the first summer, the emergency access road, the new parent drive and staff parking lot were also constructed to help alleviate added construction traffic to the already congested one way in and one way out road. During the school year, the new building was constructed at the front of the campus, while classes were in session at the back of the campus. Not only were classes held uninterrupted during the course of constructing the new building, but teachers stated they found the construction of the new building to be a good learning opportunity for the students. Students would either write or draw what they were observing on a regular basis. The design and construction team also helped in the education process by volunteering to present updates to students and staff.

Zellwood exterior 2

Architectural and Sustainable Design

To reinforce the building massing as well as code architectural elements, the design team used a combination of color and texture.  A pair of neutral colors anchors the building at the base, creating a dialogue with the ground plane.  Various shades of aqua green were used to add dignity and emphasis to significant moments such as the building entrances. A yellow-green color accents the upper floors only coming to grade as part of exterior stair elements. This contrast between upper and lower levels reinforces the buildings relationship with the site by expressing those portions of the building that engage the ground plane and those that float freely above it.   Nothing exemplifies this more than the media center as the large bay windows framed in the aqua green accent hover over the program below.  A view from the southwest clearly shows the success of all design elements working in harmony to create a dynamic, playful and respectful solution to the renovated elementary school campus.

Zellwood energy performance graphic

Zellwood Elementary School was also the recipient of a U.S. Green Building Council, Central Florida Chapter grant to take the school and the school district through their first LEED for Schools certification process. The grant included certification fees for the LEED process and pro bono services from area Central Florida Sustainable Building experts such as energy modeling, commissioning and construction indoor air quality best practices. The design team also brought a great level of sustainable design expertise by conducting life cycle cost analysis for all materials selected and for the building exterior envelope working closely with the volunteer energy modeler. The collaboration between volunteers, design and construction team members were documented and made available to all Central Florida Schools to help further advance sustainability in Florida school design.

Zellwood Elementary School boasts a well-articulated design solution that also has a 35% better energy performance than other schools of its size. The School on the Lake has been restored as the community treasure at the end of the quaint country road.

Zellwood Elementary School by DLR Group was a recipient of the AIAOrlando 2013 Award of Honorable Mention. You can view all the recipients here:

The Jury comments included: “A  nicely done building with a very low budget. Nice interior spaces that are well  lit.”

The interior designers for the Project were Ramski & Company. Here is a link to the project portfolio feature on their website:

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