The Center School
Tenant Improvement High School
The concept began as a “napkin idea” between the mayor and school superintendent. Constituents demanded a local school but the district could ill afford a new campus in the land-locked urban community. The mayor offered the superintendent tenant space within the downtown cultural center. The space inhabited by the opera costume shop would soon be vacated leaving 8,000 available square feet.
The school began with two grade levels of 75 students each. The available space however, would only accommodate half the ultimate student population of 300. The school would emphasize a humanitarian (liberal arts) curriculum for the first two and internship (outward bound) programs for the last two years.
Other problems included the building age (seismic, abatement, fire safety, accessibility, energy-envelope), infrastructure, mixed occupancy, noise, schedule, security, and construction hours (building was occupied 7 days per week). A compromise was worked out when the school district agreed to build new offices for existing tenants in exchange for their old space. Area was added and two floors were contiguously joined by a ramp on one end and a stairway on the other.
The historic building houses “food court” restaurants, exhibition spaces, a small auditorium and theater, rehearsal rooms, a children’s museum, security headquarters and various offices and conference spaces. Facilities on the cultural surrounding campus include ballet, three theaters, opera house, sports complex, music museum and science center. Also within reach of the site are several post secondary campuses, bio-technical and oceanography businesses and a ceramic studio.
The larger learning spaces are paired with movable walls and doors. Three smaller seminar rooms and two conference rooms allow small group gatherings. The principal feels that the greatest improvement has been the teacher group (3 to 4/room) offices. With desks out of the classroom teachers are encourages to interact rather than prep in isolation.
Students study and socialize in the commons area. Furnishings include café tables, benches, lounge chairs and loveseats. Cushioned benches are placed in corridors at intersections and entries. Overhead electric reel outlets allow power connections in the center of classroom spaces. Walls are lined with vinyl or cork for student displays and announcements.
Interior windows are within every habitable space allowing overviews throughout the school. Existing exterior windows were re-puttied and glazed and new double pane acoustic food court windows mirror the existing. Some windows on the upper level are operable, new blinds were installed to control glare and lighting is indirect. There are data and power duct chases along one wall in each room to allow future flexibility but laptop computers and wireless transmitters along with digital cable service are the norm.
Finishes are unpainted and natural materials used where possible. Some of these materials caused heartaches for the contractor because unavailable at typical outlets and the sequence of installation had to be altered to accommodate them. In future, more vinyl wall covering will be utilized to increase areas of display without destroying the bright, natural color schemes that enhance the vitality of the school.
Mission: The school provides a rigorous academic program that integrates academics, the arts, and technology. The collaboration between community partners, students, staff, and parents leads to meaningful learning experiences that will empower students to achieve their goals and develop as responsible community members.
Description: This small school offers a stimulating educational environment that includes a rigorous, standards-based academic program in the humanities, mathematics, science, and Spanish, enriched through partnerships with surrounding organizations. The school was designed to accommodate the program and as such, is located right in the heart of city’s cultural center providing students easy access to the major arts organizations in the city — this close proximity maximizes the opportunities for collaboration between teachers and artists as well.
The classrooms are designed to accommodate a variety of teaching strategies as well as facilitating students’ presentation and display of their work. Further, all the classrooms are placed in such a way that other distractions within Center House are minimized. The focus of this small school is to create a personalized learning environment, and the facility reflects this through the open area within the center of the school, extensive display areas outside classrooms for student work, close proximity of students and teachers throughout the school, and by providing collaborative office spaces for faculty.
Due to overall existing historic building space limitations, the school does not have performance/activity rooms that could be used for dance, drama, or music; however, the school is able to borrow and rent rooms for these activities from other groups outside and within the building for a nominal fee. We planned for just enough classrooms to meet a conventional school model but given the fluid nature of our innovative program, it would have been nice to have one (1) more classroom space for future flexibility. Unfortunately there was no more room available in our lease area.