Progress in Facility Planning

In the past several issues, we have featured schools that have received national recognition for their design. Those educational facilities included our own 2005 Education Design Showcase Grand Prize winner Sci-Tech High School, in Harrisburg, PA; CEFPI’s James D. MacConnell Award winner, White River High School, in Buckley, WA; and the American Architectural Foundation’s Great Schools by Design winner, John A. Johnson Elementary School, in St. Paul, MN. We continue that focus this month by featuring two more nationally recognized schools, and we will round up this impromptu series in the June issue with our 2006 Education Design Showcase.

This month’s educational facilities reflect the progress that has been made in facility planning. They received special recognition for their designs from the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), with co-sponsors the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and CEFPI.

Alpine School District Prototype Middle School

The plans for the Alpine School District’s Prototype Middle School were applied to two schools, Willowcreek Middle School and Timberline Middle School. Alpine’s leaders decided to build both schools at one time, using the same floor plan, because of an urgent need for new middle school buildings in the fast-growing community and a need for economy. (Utah spends the lowest per pupil when building a school.) The strategy saved the district $1.8 million.

The floor plans of the schools are divided into“houses.” The classrooms within each house open into a central collaboration space to expand group-learning opportunities. Each house has a theme, such as“wonder” or “create,” designed to divide the 1,500-student population into more intimate learning families.

The schools’ exteriors feature a combination of concrete and steel materials, differing textures and building masses to facilitate a campus feel and to complement the spectacular mountain settings of both schools.

The Alpine school design was awarded the Shirley Cooper Award, which is awarded for designs that best meet the educational needs of students.

Judges were impressed with the organization of the building, saying that it makes it easy for the students to find their way around the building. They also stated that ”every design opportunity was exploited to enhance the building as a student learning tool, because the learning process begins immediately upon arriving at school and continues as they circulate through the building past a solar calendar (at the entry). An art timeline, represented by stainless steel plates mounted in the floor, is customized for each school based upon the personality of the community — art-centered Timberline’s school portrays art from cave drawings to modern art, while the more industrial Willowcreek portrays inventions, from the wheel to the World Wide Web.

Fossil Ridge High School

The winner of the Walter Taylor Award for 2006 is Fossil Ridge High School, in Fort Collins, CO. This award is given to the school that the judges deem to have done the best job of overcoming a difficult design challenge.

Fossil Ridge High School continues the theme of smaller learning communities. The 1,800-student school is divided into three learning communities. Within these learning communities, students receive instruction in mathematics, social studies, language arts and special education. Separate environments for science, business, foreign languages and elective subjects, such as music and performing arts, are spread throughout the building. Judges made special mention of the quality of the student work areas within each house, calling them “spacious, well daylit and furnished with adequate technology and movable furnishings so as to support a variety of learning activities.”

Judges also stated that the school’s 2,500-sq.-ft. culinary arts teaching lab, which serves not only Fossil Ridge students, but eight other area high schools and the local community college, is “particularly noteworthy,” as well as the shared community outdoor recreational facilities.

The Fossil Ridge designers were concerned with its environmental impact and included key sustainable features, such as extensive natural lighting. Approximately 60 percent of required lighting levels are provided by controlled daylight. A solar arbor on each side of the school entry promotes sustainable energy and puts the district’s commitment to environmentally responsible design literally front and center.

Fossil Ridge is the third high school in the nation to achieve a silver LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Through the years, school design has made great strides — artistically and in terms of practical use, but most importantly, the progress has resulted in facilities that are an element of the learning process and are a more comfortable and enjoyable place for the students.