Romeo Engineering & Technology Center
Home to a disparate collection of advanced academic and vocational training programs, this state-of-the-art secondary school is designed to create a unique series of connections: between students of differing backgrounds and interests; between the worlds of secondary and higher education; and between the learning community and the outside world.
The primary goal of the building was to break the paradigm of separate path training and create a more integrated learning environment — one that mirrors the modern workplace. The program and faculty support teaming and joint project development, creating a democratic environment in which every student is an integral part of a larger community of learners. Flexible spaces such as computer labs, academic labs, and the Team Resource Room, located at the fulcrum of the north wing of the building, function as gathering points for project teams. An open, cheerful café acts as the hub of the student community and is used for studying, casual relaxation, social interaction, and more formal lectures and presentations.
Interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary integration are a natural result of the innovative curriculum, in which students contribute to team project development in the areas of: theory, research, experimentation, problem solving, engineering, documentation and design, fabrication, beta-testing, accounting, and marketing. In this environment, students in programs ranging from construction technology to marketing and advanced mathematics work side-by-side in a collegial atmosphere that closely resembles real world conditions.
Planned from the “curriculum up,” the building was created using a collaborative process that drew inspiration from the expertise of students, faculty, and community leaders. A committee comprised of representatives from each of these groups met weekly, exploring adjacencies of key spaces, such as the machine shops, electronics labs, and drafting and fabrication areas. Each specialization was reviewed by an advisory committee that included representatives of local businesses who provided counsel on such aspects as machinery, emergency medical technology, and food service equipment.
By reaching out to the community during planning, the new facility is also bridging the educational curriculum — from secondary to higher education. The building is home to evening and weekend adult education classes and has significant distance learning capabilities. In addition to these capabilities, the building was also designed for future conversion to a second district high school, with the ability to accommodate as many as 1,500 students.
Aesthetics and other design considerations also serve to create connections within the facility. Visible structural and HVAC elements create numerous opportunities for teachers to use the building as a teaching tool. At the same time, warm, subdued colors, drywall, office furniture, and sophisticated lighting simulate a business setting and reinforce the focus on “real world” learning.
Our district was faced with an overcrowded high school. We needed more space for our growing secondary school population, and had just failed a bond issue for a new high school. A steering committee was formed to redirect our efforts. Additionally, the district wanted to expand the curriculum, particularly in Career and Technical Education and engineering.
Working with our architectural firm, the staff developed a unique facility that was completely driven by the curriculum. We knew we didn’t want a standard “vocational center” so we added a mathematics and science center to the building. We wanted students to stay for half of their day, so we added core curriculum classes to the building. We wanted all of the classes to be somewhat interdisciplinary and integrate the curriculum into a world of business and manufacturing environment. On a practical side, we wanted a building that was easy to maintain, supervise and completely expandable, thus its unique construction.
The Engineering and Technology Center that we now occupy is truly unique as a school. The industrial end of the building has an open look, complete with exposed piping and HVAC which the students find visually interesting. Every student and parent who enters the building is surprised by what they see. There are lots of open spaces, windows, and high ceilings that give the visual appearance of a much larger building.
Our student’s reaction to the building has been extremely interesting. In the first year and a half of operation, we have had virtually no vandalism of any kind. In fact, they seem to go out of their way to take care of the building. In addition, I have very few discipline problems with students. We believe that the use of natural light, colors, and design is very satisfying to the students. We now have 25 students here all day, and 23 from other districts who come here under “schools of choice. “
The staff is extremely satisfied with the overall environment. With respect to technology, we tried to design a building that put lots of tools at both teachers’ and students’ disposal. Our teaching styles are matching students’ learning styles. Each room has a multimedia projector, computers for both students and teachers, DVD/VCR players, and distributed video. Teachers can easily present a lesson in Power Point, then go to websites, and finish with a video clip. We know that teaching and learning is happening at a more accelerated rate, and we are holding their interest. The second floor of the building is all wireless with network and internet access so students are able to use a laptop anywhere.
Looking back at our first two years of operation, we probably would have made slight adjustments in some layouts. For instance, no one uses the teacher’s lounge because it isn’t centrally located. We need to add a small kitchen to prepare student lunches if we have more students here all day, and we will probably need more classroom space soon.
I feel that the most important success story of this project was the participation of the staff in the planning and design, the patience of the architects to help us define what we wanted, and the staff’s willingness to go the extra mile to make it happen. It has been a truly gratifying experience for me, and the capstone of my career in education.
Gary Wilke, Director