Industry Veteran Joins BWBR as Business Development Manager

In a first for the 97-year-old firm, BWBR recently welcomed Coral Digatono to the firm as its new business development manager. A trained interior designer, Digatono brings more than a decade-and-a-half of business development experience spanning the region and nation.

“In the past several years, BWBR has grown significantly,” said Peter G. Smith, FAIA, president and CEO of BWBR. “As a smaller firm, there was a managed balance between developing our business and doing the work. With our growth, we realize we have to be more strategic with our resources, both externally and internally, and this hire is a component of that strategy.”

Digatono’s experience spans the spectrum of the design profession, from architectural and interior design agencies to product manufacturers, giving her keen insight into the professional services and knowledge firms such as BWBR can bring to organizations looking for design solutions to their business objectives. Starting her career in Las Vegas, she’s spent the past eight years working the Upper Midwest market.

“From the outside, BWBR’s reputation for service and quality was enviable. Joining the firm in the midst of its evolution presents an exciting challenge to leverage that reputation and grow its presence on a larger scale,” Digatono said.

Since 2012, staffing at BWBR has grown by more than 50 percent as the design firm saw record revenues in the past few years. Additionally, the firm expanded is footprint in the Upper Midwest and Plains region, opening new offices in Madison, Wis., and Omaha, Neb., in the past six years.

Digatono joins the firm on the heels of other notable hires in the past year that have included the firm’s first operational services planner, a nationally recognized healthcare architect, and, recently, an architect with expertise in historic preservation.

“We’re obsessed about our clients’ performance and are continually adapting to help them perform better. As client needs have become more complex and multifaceted, these hires position us to serve those needs and connect what we offer to clients wanting innovative design thinking, be it in health care, education, high-tech manufacturing, corporate offices, or other service delivery,” Smith said.

Pankalo Education Center Earns National Recognition

Pankalo Education Center, a specialized school serving students with severe autism, emotional-behavioral disorders, and development cognitive disabilities, recently received the Grand Prize Award in an education showcase presented by Learning by Design magazine.

Learning by Design, produced in partnership with the American Institute of Architects’ Committee on Architecture for Education, the Association for Learning Environments, and the Society for College and University Planners, announced the award in the Spring 2019 edition. Pankalo was one of four schools to be recognized through a juried showcase.

Northeast Metro Intermediate School District 916 Pankalo Education CenterOpened in 2017, Pankalo is operated by Northeast Metro ISD 916, an intermediate school district serving a consortium of 17 districts located throughout the northern and eastern parts of metropolitan Minneapolis-Saint Paul. Using an arts-based focus to its compassionate education model, the education center combines philosophies in education and behavioral health to serve up to 130 students who struggle in traditional school environments.

In the award announcement, judges noted the school’s “attention to detail to mitigate issues in the special student population.” Those details range from reducing the use of artificial lighting to the location of mechanical units and air ducts that could adversely affect students with heightened sensitivities to light, air, noise, and smell.

Pankalo – a name created from the Greek words meaning “complete” and “beauty” – is designed around four neighborhood communities, each with five classrooms and a common area. The neighborhoods also include other small rooms like a sensory room that allows a student to refocus their minds and bodies and return to classrooms ready to learn.

Beyond the neighborhoods and floor plan that make the design unique and effective, the key to the success of the educational/behavioral combination design are the layers of interventional spaces for students learning coping skills for self-regulation:

  • The common areas provide room for students to pace and move without disruption to the other learning environments inside the classrooms or in other neighborhoods.
  • Sensory rooms feature student-chosen LED lighting, music, and sounds designed to calm students and help them self-regulate.
  • Shorter hallways control sight lines to obscure exits and discourage students looking for an “escape” from running through the corridors.
  • Intervention rooms allow staff to work with students one-on-one in a controlled setting with limited distractions.

Working with state fire inspectors, even fire alarms are specific for this special student population, replacing loud alarms and strobe lights with calm voice alarms and LED reader signs more often found in mental health facilities.

Not specific to Pankalo, the fire alarms were one of many successful strategies that carried over from Karner Blue Education Center, the school district’s first school to take a non-traditional approach to the learning environment. Other strategies included soft, movable, child-friendly furniture; rubber flooring and strategically used carpeting; and nesting windows, at Pankalo made deeper for students to sit inside.

The details, layers of intervention, and passive seclusion opportunities help students learn how to manage their bodies and minds through self-awareness and control. They also reduce the physical interventions with staff and create a less disruptive school setting by not challenging the students on a day-to-day basis.

Click to read about Human-Centered Safety® strategies that shaped Pankalo as well as an interview with Northeast Metro’s superintendent, Connie Hayes.