Building Blueprints

Partnerships to Pipeline: A New Model for High Schools

Fountain Inn High School, Greenville, South Carolina

Disruptions to the global supply chain and the prospect of worker shortages well into the future have underscored the importance of increasing job-readiness and hands-on learning opportunities for students. A 2021 Deloitte study warns that 2.1 million U.S. manufacturing jobs could go unfilled by 2030. At Greenville County Schools, district leaders enlisted the support of local industry partners such as Michelin, BMW, Stueken and others—all in need of highly skilled employees—to plan a new model of high school that begins to address this labor pipeline challenge.

Many comprehensive high schools around the country integrate career and technical education programs into their curriculum. Advanced manufacturing differs from traditional career and technical education programs in that it focuses specifically on technology and innovation to improve products and processes. Traditionally in school planning, career and technical spaces have been located far away from core academic classes.

Fountain Inn High School advanced manufacturing space 

PHOTO FIREWATER PHOTOGRAPHY © 2021

The high-bay advanced manufacturing space was designed as an open, utility-rich space to maximize flexibility, anticipating programmatic changes over time.

At Fountain Inn High School, located in Greenville, S.C., partnerships with area manufacturers directly informed the layout of the school and its “Institute of Automation & Engineering,” which is at the core of the curriculum and the planning. Fountain Inn’s advanced manufacturing spaces are visible at the front door and physically embedded in the heart of the academic area to provide high visibility to students, By Aimee Eckmann, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C, ALEP and Steve Turckes, FAIA, LEED AP, ALEP parents and business partners, and to underscore that the curriculum is central to the school’s mission.

Fountain Inn High School open large flexible learning collaborative space  

PHOTO FIREWATER PHOTOGRAPHY © 2021

Dedicated teacher touch down areas offer individual and collaborative work spaces for educators while incorporating passive supervision of the collaborative project areas.

The design process and outcome from Fountain Inn High School can inform the future design of advanced manufacturing programs across the country:

  • The business workforce partners were heavily involved in early meetings for the project, helping the design team meaningfully understand their needs. This engagement, along with that of the district and designers, led to the prominence of advanced manufacturing spaces in the building design.
  • Locating the advanced manufacturing labs with visibility at the front of the building underscores the importance of the curriculum. Placing a project display area prominently near the entrance sends the clear message that Fountain Inn High School values the hands-on work of students.
  • The spaces within the school are designed with flexibility in mind: They can change over time based on new equipment or programming needs. This is essential to the success of the curriculum, ensuring that spaces won’t become outdated as technology changes. Teachers don’t “own” a classroom; they can check out rooms and create spaces from studios to labs for specific student projects, while having a dedicated teacher touch down space for focused work and professional collaboration.
  • Advanced manufacturing classrooms connect to open collaboration areas and the core academic classrooms, making it easy for students to work across subjects. Since today’s careers are not compartmentalized into siloed subject areas, it is important for students to grow accustomed to working across disciplines and seek inspiration from diverse groups of colleagues.

Fountain Inn’s curriculum focuses on project-based, personalized learning centered around integrated and advanced manufacturing pathways such as integrated production technology and mechatronics. Students can earn certifications, degrees and other credentials that set them up for future success, regardless of post-secondary aspirations.

Fountain Inn High School second story view into advanced manufacturing lab space 

PHOTO FIREWATER PHOTOGRAPHY © 2021

Upon entering the building, the view into the two-story advanced manufacturing lab space is designed to spark curiosity and put learning on display.

“The goal of Fountain Inn was to create pathways to the future for every student,” said Fountain Inn High School Principal Maureen Tiller. “We picked pathways that would complement different experiences: machine tool, computer science and informatics, IT, arts and media. It’s all integrated as electives, so every student is taking technical courses.”

Intentional visual connectivity between spaces puts learning on display and sparks curiosity. The focus on collaboration for both learners and educators was fundamental in the building’s planning. Students have informal collaboration areas directly adjacent to the labs and classrooms, making it easy to be hands-on and collaborative.

“We would not be able to do this without collaborative spaces,” Tiller said. “The whole look of the building is more like a college. It’s very different from a traditional high school, yet it is still a fully functioning high school with activities such as sports and performing arts.”

Fountain Inn High School movable walls and windows surrounding classrooms 

PHOTO FIREWATER PHOTOGRAPHY © 2021

Moveable walls and windows from surrounding classrooms provide ease of access to the collaborative project areas.

To support students and their school community holistically, districts, business partners and architects can build strong relationships to create spaces in which educational programs can be tailored to match job demand. As many schools like the new Fountain Inn High School seek to inspire the next generation of professionals, designing flexible spaces that can be adapted for changing industry needs can help ensure that students who wish to pursue advanced manufacturing careers in their home communities can access applicable training and opportunities.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2022 issue of Spaces4Learning.