A Small Footprint

The new Sergeant Paul Smith Middle School opened in August 2008 with a flurry of activity and enthusiasm from new students, teachers and staff. The 1,550-student school was designed to take advantage of efficiencies inherent in locating a new school on an infill site, in close proximity to existing public facilities. A design strategy was developed to maintain an exceptionally compact building footprint, maximize shared public spaces, utilize renewable and recyclable building materials and incorporate teaching tools within the architecture. The new campus supports the school’s mission of providing a safe, caring and rigorous learning environment in which all students may reach their fullest potential.

Site Selection
In early 2004, Hillsborough County Public Schools, in Tampa Fla., identified a need to relieve overcrowding at several Citrus Park area middle schools. After careful analysis, a small site adjacent to a county park and an existing elementary school was selected. This site provided opportunities to share public facilities, develop efficient traffic and parking plans, and most importantly, to conserve natural resources and community green space. The facility opened in August 2008 — on just 8.5 acres — less than half the size of a typical middle school site. (State Requirements for Educational Facilities Guidelines (SREF) for a Florida Middle School recommends 18-acre site.)

The use of smaller infill sites is a trend that the district expects to see much more of in Florida and nationwide. According to Cathy Valdes, chief facilities officer for Hillsborough County Public Schools, “as land gets harder to find, we are challenged to co-locate with parks, media centers/libraries and other municipal facilities. The community was very excited and receptive to this project — the idea that their children could start kindergarten and stay at the same site through 8th grade was very appealing. In addition, there is added benefit to the adjacencies of a county park. Children will be able to play ball and use the local county facilities for extracurricular activities.”

The design team’s site strategy ultimately included bicycle and vehicular links to the existing school and park. In addition, a covered pedestrian link was built between the elementary school and the new middle school facility, further strengthening the role of the school site as a community anchor.

Community Participation
The success of this project comes in larger part from community participation encouraged throughout the design process. Hillsborough County Public Schools, along with the design team, actively engaged the neighboring communities and local residents through a series of town hall style meetings. This process allowed the team to incorporate and accommodate constructive public input wherever possible.

Residents brought concerns about traffic and roadways, lighting, use of local ball fields, and construction duration to the table. All entities worked collaboratively to address concerns: the access road was widened to accommodate additional traffic, site lighting was designed to reduce night time light pollution of surrounding neighborhoods, construction scheduling to reduce community disruption. Most importantly, the county and district worked together to share newly designed outdoor athletic facilities such as playfields and the existing county-owned facilities.

Design Adaptability for Future Infill Sites
In addition to these significant site considerations, the goal of the team was to develop a strategy for the design of highly flexible campus building components capable of being repeated in a variety of configurations on similar, small urban and infill parcels. The final 130,000-gross-square-foot prototype solution consists of four building components which can be reoriented and linked in a multitude of ways based on specific site size, composition, and access criteria if the design is repeated in the future.

The programmed building spaces include 1) two story classroom building, 2) a gymnasium, 3) two story administration/media center and 4) a multipurpose/cafeteria building. Vertical circulation elements are exterior and composed of exposed steel structure, clearly revealing the framing and connections. The shell of the building utilizes insulated concrete tilt slab construction, steel columns and beams, providing a long-lasting, durable envelope that meets stringent EHPA/shelter guidelines (Enhanced Hurricane Protection Area).

Pre-fabricated modular steel sun shading devices and a tinted glazing system provides means for decreased energy consumption. The mechanical system is centrally located to significantly reduce duct sizes and conduit lengths, while providing a system that will be energy efficient. Parking is integrated within the school’s bus loop and the main entry drive, creating a clear and separate flow of varying types of vehicular traffic. Covered walkway connections link all buildings, providing students and building users protection from the elements throughout the day.

The design and planning included careful consideration for how all program components connect, link and relate to each in a manner that that can be reconfigured to any number of small or oddly shaped infill sites, while still retaining the ability to provide varying scales of exterior spaces conducive to a wide range of educational and community activities.

Sustainable/Environmental Design Features

Reducing energy consumption and increasing occupant comfort were the two main goals in creating a 21st century Florida School. The design employs passive and active design strategies to reduce energy consumption, while increasing occupant comfort. These include site considerations, environmentally responsible material selections and efficient systems design.

The buildings are sited with consideration for solar orientation, limiting energy consumption. The inclusion of native, drought-resistant plantings reduces the irrigation required. Additional considerations include the incorporation of locally manufactured, modular pre-fabricated elements (metal sun shades), daylighting strategies in combination with fluorescent lighting and occupancy sensors, reflective roofing, operable windows for ventilation and a well-insulated building shell with high thermal mass. The mechanical system (central chiller plant) utilized is designed to reduce up-front and operating costs through zoning (sensor and human control), reducing energy consumption with more accurate distribution.

Unique Teaching Tools Incorporated
The team incorporated several significant, but inexpensive teaching tools in to the design of the facility. These include a sundial, campus site plans, and exposed steel structure. The key plans and sundial are like works of art on the exterior of the buildings. School officials get a lot of “a-has” from visitors as they discover the site plans embedded in the walls. The campus site plans are embedded on tilt panels for each building at major entries. Serving as way-finding elements, each key plan is oriented according to its relationship with the site. This adds another layer of information about the overall site and the student’s location in reference to the surroundings.

Guests have even found these key plans helpful, using them as a campus guide when visiting campus for the first time. A massive 30-foot-tall sundial is inscribed on a south facing wall, serving as a focal point for the courtyard and entry area. The wall and its demarcations are a point of discovery and learning for students and teachers over the course of the year.