Intergenerational Campuses

A new phrase has popped up in the K-12 school lexicon: intergenerational campuses. If you’re unfamiliar with the phrase, you might not catch its meaning right away. In short, an intergenerational campus is a community-use campus on steroids; it is a campus that has something or perhaps many things of interest to people of all ages.

“Intergenerational campuses aim to reconnect schools with their communities,” says John Willi, director of design in the Dublin, OH, office of Fanning/Howey Associates, Inc., an architectural firm specializing in educational facilities. “It’s more than community use. Community use usually means that when the students and teachers finish for the day, the community can use the facilities. But with an intergenerational campus, people of all ages use the facilities all the time. That’s the key.”

Such a school might house grades K-12 on a single campus, while offering a recreational center, library, and adult education classes to the community at large. It might be a high school with many community connections. The point is that an intergenerational campus isn’t just for students. Nor is it just for a couple of community groups. It is for students and for as many members of the community as possible.

A number of trends are leading communities to think about new school proposals from the point of view of the community at large. Among these are cost, and a desire to build community centers.

Twenty years ago, building a new high school cost about $25M. That seemed expensive and communities wanted to share the facility with students, a desire that spawned more community use. Today, a new school outfitted with a fully equipped media center, networked computer and communications technology, a state-of-the art performing arts center, and recreational and sports facilities — ranging from a football stadium to a swimming pool — costs triple or more what low-tech 20th century schools cost. And, of course, higher costs raise interest in community-use.

It isn’t just cost; people today want to re-inject a sense of community into their lives. They want to build centers with gathering places where neighbors can meet to discuss community business, relax, swim, shoot basketball, and find a book at the library. Communities planning new schools today often give serious consideration to designing the new facility as a multi-purpose community center.

Medina’s Sense Of Community
Medina, OH, is a case in point. In the mid 1990s, Medina’s school superintendent, Charles Irish, and the city board of education held a series of discussions with the community, trying to work out a solution to ever-increasing high school enrollment.

The community resisted the idea of building a second high school, on the grounds that it would split the city into separate communities revolving around each school.

That desire led Irish to conclude that the way to solve the crowding problem in the high school was to explore the community’s values and to use those values in creating a solution.

Further talks produced a document that described Medina’s community values. First on the list was the requirement that the new school would enable Medina to maintain its sense of community. With that, the community decided to expand the existing high school instead of building a new facility.

Next, Medina wanted teachers to give all students personal attention, a goal that would seem to conflict with the notion of expanding a 186,000-sq.-ft. high school for 1,200 students into a 540,000-sq.-ft. high school for 2,400 students.

Fanning/Howey, the architect on the project, resolved the conflict with a design that called for four small academic houses or units. Each unit would accommodate 600 students in grades 9 through 12. Each house would include resources for core academics, administration, guidance, special needs, and food service.

The third value was equity. The community didn’t want the building addition to outperform the existing facility. Therefore, the expansion would include a major renovation of the existing school to ensure similar aesthetics and capabilities.

Fourth, the new school would provide resources for academic excellence today, as well as the flexibility to change to meet future needs.

Frugality and value came next. The community instructed the superintendent and board not to build more than was needed and not to build less than was needed. It was also to be built to last.

Sixth and last was the intergenerational value. The community wanted to use the facilities. The school would be for students, faculty, administrators, and community members of all ages to use at the same time.

“This was dramatic,” says Willi. “I haven’t seen this level of community involvement in planning or using a school before.”

Yet, it was probably feelings of ownership by members of the Medina community that enabled the project’s $67.2M bond issue to pass, albeit on the second try, in 1999. The expanded and renovated intergenerational school came on line in the fall of 2003.

Intergenerational Partnerships
The new Medina High School and Community Center is a model of modern community use. The school has taken on six community partners: the City of Medina, the Medina General Hospital, the Medina County Performing Arts Foundation, the University of Akron, and Medina Cable Access.

City of Medina: The city contributed $7.7M to the construction of the high school’s new recreational center. Adjacent to the school’s physical education facilities, the recreation center expands opportunities for student athletics and healthcare, while offering the community access to the facilities. Operated by city employees, the center has public and school entries. The center includes a leisure pool, a competition pool with spectator seating and a 24,000-sq.-ft. field house with basketball, volleyball, and tennis courts as well as batting and golf cages. The center also features a fitness center with a weight room, a walking and jogging track, community rooms, classrooms, a food service area, a senior center, and an area for babysitting and physical therapy rooms.

Medina General Hospital: The city hospital installed its sports medicine service, Sports Quarters, in the recreation center. Sports Quarters promotes prevention and treats sport-related orthopedic injuries for professional, scholastic, and recreational athletes. The hospital also operates an arm of its Rehabilitation Services business in the recreation center, using the physical therapy rooms and the leisure pool to deliver part of its menu of services.

Medina County Performing Arts Foundation: The expansion also includes a new state-of-the-art theater with an orchestra pit, fly loft, and seating for 1,200. Accessible from the school, the theater also offers a separate lobby and public entrance. Under a joint operating agreement with the school district, the Performing Arts Foundation will help secure productions by local and traveling performing arts groups. Students will work in mentorships and attend workshops with the foundation staff and performing artists. A local foundation contributed $400,000 for seating.

University of Akron: The university had been offering distance-learning classes through a lab in the existing building. Since the expansion came on line, it has extended its distance-learning offerings to post-secondary students and the community at large, while offering students and Medina residents the opportunity to take college courses.

Medina Cable Access: The local cable network is broadcasting school-related information, such as board of education meetings, to the community from a television studio located next to the media center and multi-media production studio. Students studying journalism and media work side-by-side with the cable network staff in the facility.

The concept of partnering with many community organizations also looks to the future. “The Medina County Library System helped program and design the media center,” says Willi. “Their contribution makes it possible to turn the media center into a branch of the county library at some point in the future.”

The design of the school itself also reflects the idea of making the school into part of the Medina community at large. In downtown Medina, there is a town square with a band shelter in the center. “We used images of from the square in the design of the high school,” Willi says. “For example, we picked up the names of the streets in the town square and used them to name the corridors in he schools.”

Meridian Hall (or corridor), for instance, recalls the street where two meridian stones were set at midnight in exact line with the North Star. One is at the Congregational Church and the other at the northeast corner of North Broadway Street. Other corridors similarly reflect themes from Medina’s history.

In virtually every sense, the Medina High School and Community Center plays a key role in fostering a sense of community in the high school and in people of all ages across the City of Medina.