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P.L.A.C.E. Project Spotlight: K8 Prototype School at Manatee County – A Learning Neighborhood

From innovative outdoor classrooms that promote an all-inclusive learning environment to the vibrant native-inspired landscape design, WGI’s award-winning team of Landscape Architects have crafted an educational masterpiece like no other.

Since the summer of 2023, WGI’s Award-Winning Landscape Architecture team has worked closely with HKS Inc. on the K8 prototype school project for the Manatee County school district.

This 40-acre project is sized to accommodate approximately 1,692 student stations, including 903 Elementary School stations and 789 Middle School stations – Approximately 230,000 gross square feet of the project will include:

  • 1-story Administration and Media Center Building
  • 1-story Dining/Kitchen/Arts & Music Building
  • 1-story Gymnasium
  • 2-story Elementary School (grades PreK-5) Building
  • 1-story Middle School (grades 6-8) Building
  • Covered Play
  • Covered Agricultural Barn
  • Greenhouse
Credit: HKS, Inc.

From the architectural concepts to the exterior space layout, the project’s entire design team adhered to the school district’s mission of creating a learning neighborhood.

A nest is located at each entrance to the classrooms, offering shaded seating space and other interactive space for students. Our landscape architecture team extended the nest definition to the adjacent open space, creating connected programs while assigning them different characters in order to ensure an all-inclusive environment for students, introverted or extroverted:

  • Secret Native Garden: Quiet, intimate & private
  • Outdoor Classroom: Loud, interactive & public.
Credit: HKS, Inc.

The main outdoor activity space—the courtyard—enclosed by various indoor activities for all ages, provides a communal space for learning, contemplation, and a connection to nature.

While keeping the main connectivity geometric, circles and curves are introduced as a secondary circulation system, empowering the outdoor classrooms with a sense of unity, commitment, love, and community.


To create a natural calming arrival experience, the overall planting design language is organic and curvilinear.

A variety of Florida native species are strategically placed around the campus, accentuating the architecture, forming visual corridors, and serving to speak to the natural flora of the sunshine state. Pink Muhly, Pink Tabebuia, Poinciana trees, and other colorful plants are placed at main entries and centers of various open spaces to provide interest.

Credit: HKS, Inc.

The landscape architecture and civil engineering team also wanted to incorporate a beautified green infrastructure.

Working closely together, our team carefully placed colorful Florida native and pollinator plants on the higher banks of the swale, creating a natural drainage system that’s functional, visually pleasing, beneficial to the natural environment, and educational.


WGI’s Landscape Architecture team’s talent and efforts have been recognized by the Manatee County School District.

After our schematic design presentation,  Mike Pendley, SDMC Executive Planner, commented:

“In all of the years I’ve been doing this, I have never seen this kind of effort and thought put into the design.”

And from Jessica Roddenberry, Principal and Studio Practice Leader, Education at HKS:

“Thank you to your team for bringing these ideas to the table and challenging us all to think bigger.”

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Contact our experts to discuss how we can help you thoughtfully craft landscapes that spark inspiration, foster a sense of place, and elevate the communities in which we live, work, learn, and play!

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