Cesar Martinez remembers making his own toys when he was young, stacking blocks into tall towers, deconstructing mechanical equipment and pressing Legos into one another.
“I’m very creative,” he said. “I love creating with my hands.”
A drive to create led Martinez to explore architecture, and he decided in sixth grade that he’d like to design modern houses.
During the most recent school year, he learned about a unique opportunity offered through Proviso East’s Fine Arts and Languages Department called the Reimagining Space Project, which explored ways to repurpose the long-shuttered girls pool at the school, and immediately signed up to be a part.
As District 209 thinks about the future of its facilities, Martinez is part of a group of students who have already come up with a solution for how to reinvent the old pool: Make it into a chill room.
“So many kids are stressed about a lot of things. It’s just a space for kids to come, take any problems off their mind, be alone, think to themselves for a bit, lay down for 10 minutes or have movie nights,” said Martinez, 17.
He joined about 20 students who spent the year researching and creating scale foam models of new uses for the old pool space. Ideas included a movie screening area inside the empty pool tank and a kitchen, cellphone charging station and ping-pong table on deck.
Decorated with checkered wallpaper, Martinez’s model also offers speakers for karaoke nights, places to play videogames and a hockey table.
“I think it’s a good opportunity for the future if I do become an architect,” Martinez said.
Students started the year by surveying classmates about what kinds of spaces they believed Proviso East lacked. After reviewing the surveys, the group found their classmates wanted somewhere to spend free time and relax.
“The big idea behind socially engaged art projects is you have to involve the community,” said Marcia LaPorte, the Fine Arts and World Languages Department chairwoman, who headed the project.
The group created about 10 models for how the pool could be remade into a relaxation area. When LaPorte realized the district was reviewing its facilities, she felt a sense of serendipity.
She contacted the school district’s architecture firm and, in February, students presented their ideas to Michael Dolter and Jessica Wagner, architects from Perkins and Will, the firm leading D209’s facilities master planning process.
In April, students travelled downtown and toured the architecture firm’s offices in the Wrigley Building.
“The next step, I think for architects involved in the project, is to use students’ ideas,” LaPorte said. “Nobody’s made any decisions right now on which it would be, but eventually.”
Kamya Sutton, 16, said Perkins and Will liked her group’s idea — a movie theater that includes a bed, study hall, bean bag chair and more. When she toured their office, she said she was inspired by all the foam cutouts of modern homes she saw. She’s since made a foam model of what she wants her future home to look like.
“When you have nothing to do, you could come here on your own time and chill in here,” she said of her group’s pool design. “It gives you a break, and allows you to do something on top of having fun. I really love the model.”