A few weeks ago, I got an email from Katy Hancock, a PTA officer at Merriman Park Elementary School, the kind that I love to get.
In it, she told me about how three parents (who just happened to be experts in their fields) banded together to spearhead a makeover of the teachers’ lounge — a teachers lounge that was sad, dark, and dysfunctional.
“The PTA had a little money left over at the end of the year,” Hancock said. “We thought maybe we could get a few cabinets and a new countertop.”
But then Kim Armstrong, a parent and owner of Kim Armstrong Interior Design, offered to manage the project.
“Kim stepped in, some amazing MPE families stepped up, and OMG…we have ourselves one very amazing teacher’s lounge,” Hancock said.
“Their contributions and a whopping PTA budget of $2,500 made this possible,” Hancock said in her email.
I took Johnstone up on her offer to see the completed space in person, and met with her, Kellogg, and Armstrong in the now bright, cheery room that is a vast improvement for the 60 teachers that use it.
While the three companies did the work, Johnstone explained that they actually opened up furnishing the space to the entire Merriman Park family, creating a Sign Up Genius where people could agree to sponsor everything from cabinet hardware to banquette chairs and cushions.
“Some of the items were as small as $25, and some were as much as $250,” Armstrong said.
“It was a huge draw,” Hancock added.
Armstrong said she started with a full design for the room. They interviewed parents and teachers who used the lounge the most about what was working — and what wasn’t working — in the space. They learned that the teachers wanted a large space that could be used as a serving space. They wanted a better seating plan that would hold more people at a time. They wanted hidden storage.
Armstrong also wanted to craft a design that would draw the eye away from the things they couldn’t change, like the old ceiling tiles.
“Generous gifts helped us,” she said.
“At first, it was going to be a small bit of cabinetry, so we approached Kevin (who has a daughter at Merriman Park),” Kellogg said. “Kevin said, ‘Let’s do it right, let’s do it big.’”
Bryant and Kellogg installed and built, Armstrong stenciled (seriously, that geometric design at the back of the room is a work of art), planned, and watched over the timeline and budget, and Hancock rallied parents. Once the room was cleaned out, it took about four days to complete the installation.
The completed room is awash in the school colors of gold and blue, but in a sophisticated design that transformed a small space into a welcoming, functional room that teachers and parents feel great spending time in.
A long banquette lines one wall, with tables and chairs to increase seating. Round tables cluster in the middle of the room, and a large island offers space for working or for buffet-style functions. On the other side of that island is hidden storage.
How can other schools pull this off? I asked the three parents for tips.
“For PTA’s, I would start with being mindful of your end-of-the-year budget,” Hancock said, adding that reviewing the budget last year alerted them to the ability to take on a small-budget endeavor, and the organization began looking for a potential project.
Don’t have the budget just yet? Armstrong said that schools can also make it a goal. “If schools want to do this, one, it’s something they can strive for — they can set it as a long-term goal,” she said. “And two, they can always ask for donations.”
“If you don’t ask, you won’t receive,” she said.
Both Armstrong and Hancock said that taking stock of your talent pool is also important. “You might be able to find a parent that is a contractor, or just is really handy,” Armstrong said.
“Lots of builders like me want to contribute to the communities they work in,” Kellogg added.
Armstrong said that finding someone that can oversee the project is also important. If your school isn’t lucky enough to have an interior designer among its parents, Armstrong said getting in touch with your local American Society of Interior Designers chapter can often help you find an interior decorator that is available to advise or help source materials to keep you within your budget.
“It can also be a learning experience for students — they can learn through the project,” Kellogg said. “You can tie it in.”
“Basically, if there’s a will, there’s a way,” Armstrong said.
But we’d like to make it a little easier, so we’re proposing this: If you’re a school with a teachers lounge that needs some serious sprucing up, email me with the subject line: FIX MY LOUNGE. If you’re a company that would like to be matched with a school, email me with the subject line: WE ARE READY TO HELP.
As I compile a list of schools, I will work to match groups and companies with them. All we ask in return? Pictures. Lots of pictures.
You ready North Texas? Hit me. The inbox is open.
Bethany Erickson is the education, consumer affairs, and public policy columnist for CandysDirt.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.