Silver Lake Regional High School
As of this writing, we are enjoying the second full year in our new building. From this perspective, we can reflect on some lessons learned relative to the design elements and how they play out in operation.
The philosophy and organization of the High School is based on the mission statement : fostering a supportive community and providing an academically challenging environment to prepare students for the future.
The new building needed the flexibility to schedule students in both a traditional departmental structure and a house system. Currently we use a departmental organization with science and math classes occupying a classroom wing on the second floor and Social Studies and English classes on the first floor. Elective classes such as foreign language and computer technology are located among the core curricular areas. Our technology education wing is across from the vocational wing to encourage integration between the technology classroom and vocational laboratories. The hallmark of the technology education program is a pre-engineering program that has seen enrollment more than triple in the two years that we have occupied the wing.
The layout and positioning of the school’s library, auditorium, cafeteria, special subject rooms such as technical education, physical education and fitness center, health suite, lobby and reception area, guidance suite and the school administration offices are a great fit for the functions they perform. An attendance kiosk in the main lobby allows us to monitor those who enter and leave the building and serves as a welcoming reception area. Student attendance is recorded and disseminated from the kiosk and this lobby clearly serves as the hub of, thus allowing the main office to conduct business more efficiently.
The auditorium stage area and adjacent Art and Music classrooms create a natural connection for the fine arts program. The auditorium is a much sought after space for use in the entire community. The numerous conference areas in the library, special education suites, and main office are welcoming and functional environments for meetings and conferences with parents, students, and staff. The large group room on the second floor above the library host a variety of classroom activities throughout the day and serves the community well during evening hours.
A more compact, efficient building footprint opened up fourteen acres on the site. We now boast a state of the art track facility and two new clay softball fields that are the envy of the Local League. Our practice fields and playing fields were redesigned and reconfigured to offer our students and the community a safe, practical, and visually appealing campus.
As the Principal of the High School, I had the opportunity and privilege to be a part of the planning process and collaborated with the design team to create the educational specification. My goal was to assure that the educational process took place without disruption during construction. Through the design and scheduling of the project and close working relationship with the architect, we were able to attain this goal. Our work extended to include design elements that we felt would facilitate the implementation of a high school organization and its teaching and learning model. Clearly, the construction of the High School is an example of form following function.
What innovations in the planning, programming and design process supported the realization of those exemplary ideas?
The firm was initially hired to develop a master plan for a new middle school adjacent to the existing high school. One of the primary goals of this planning effort was to modernize and expand the outdated, undersized high school while at the same time creating a well-organized school campus for the regional school district. After the new middle school was complete, the design team turned their attention to the high school.
The existing high school was in poor condition and needed to be brought up to current educational standards and codes. Because the reallocation of space to meet square footage requirements would be difficult and costly, new construction options were explored. The plan for a mostly new school includes renovation of the specialized (expensive) vocational spaces.
The district required that the design be flexible enough to operate with either a Departmental or House educational model while providing security and controlled access. This coupled with the need to complete construction while classes were in session had a major impact on the design. Success depended heavily on the integration of construction phasing into the design thought process.
Two, two-story classroom wings (houses) accommodate the educational models. Specialized spaces like science labs and special needs suites are evenly distributed between the two wings. Science labs are also strategically located next to the large group room for efficient departmental communication.
Large expanses of glass allow for natural light, security, and views to the courtyard. Originally triggered by necessity to work around a portion of existing building, the courtyard was an opportunity to create an informal gathering space and a “shortcut” between portions of the building. With an exterior stage students can explore their creativity with small-scale performances. The visual art department has direct access to the courtyard from their classrooms as well. Filled with all these activities the courtyard has become an “art lab” for the school.
A public entrance at the lobby shared by the gym and auditorium addresses security/access issues and allows the renovated adjacent Culinary Arts program to provide food during large school functions as well as serve lunch to the community. The design team updated the existing restaurant with a more appealing contemporary café like atmosphere.
Site design improved traffic and pedestrian circulation and the campus concept has become a valued cost saving measure as well as an environmentally friendly solution. The district was able to simplify school bussing routes and the facilities share a newly built wastewater treatment facility bringing down operational costs. The two schools also share extensive athletic facilities.