Dedicated to the New Tech Curriculum

The Seaford School District (Del.) determined that a component of their “reinvention” of Seaford High School would be the creation of a New Tech Academy, affiliated with the New Tech Network and housed in an addition to that building. The New Tech Network, headquartered in Napa, Calif., is a rapidly growing association of New Tech Schools now totaling almost 100 nationwide. Their curriculum model, centered mainly on project-based learning in a technology-rich environment, requires an understanding of the New Tech curriculum by facility planners and designers who design these schools, how teaching and learning takes place within that curriculum and the building requirements to best facilitate that.

Knowing that an RFP would be issued for architectural/engineering services, the design team prepared by thoroughly researching project-based learning, the New Tech Network and the New Tech curriculum. We also wanted to see a New Tech high school “up close and personal,” so we visited one of the premier New Tech high schools in the U.S., namely Columbus Signature Academy (CSA) in Columbus, Ind. We spent time talking with the school’s educational planner, Dr. Rosemary Rehak, CSO Architects, and the school’s lead architectural designer, Mr. John Rigsbee, AIA, CSO Architects, about the components of their design and how it supported the New Tech curriculum and project-based learning. But most importantly, we had the opportunity to walk through the building during the school day to observe students and teachers at work, talk at length with the school principal, Mike Reed, and several students about how the school operated, how teaching and learning takes place and how well the built environment facilitates that.

The Seaford School District had a basic concept in mind for this project. They wanted an addition to their existing high school to accommodate a New Tech Academy of 400 students in grades nine through 12. Beginning the design with two on-site charrettes, the team from StudioJAED joined with representatives of the board of education, staff, students, parents and community. In the first charrette, we worked together to develop a vision and answer basic questions like the number and types of different spaces and the activities within them, necessary space adjacencies, technology requirements, environmental requirements and FF&E requirements, among others. Detailed educational specifications were developed, which served as a foundation for further development. A second charrette was convened to develop a conceptual design. We think of the visioning charrette as creating the pieces of a puzzle and the conceptual design charrette as putting those pieces together to form the complete picture.

Many design considerations were made to facilitate the implementation of the project-based, technology-rich, New Tech curriculum. These include spaces for large group and small group instruction, break out spaces for individual and small group study and collaboration, special support spaces, transparency between spaces, flexibility, especially with regard to technology and furniture, and the ambiance to support the New Tech “corporate feel.” Because the curriculum is project-based and heavily dependent upon technology, special consideration was given in the design to accommodate technology, both wired and wireless.

On the engineering side, multiple innovations are included. The entire building HVAC system will be replaced, and will include Combined Cooling Heating and Power (CCHP). This system employs a natural gas engine powering a generator that supplies a portion of the building’s power. The waste heat from the operation of the engine is utilized to assist in heating and cooling the building by means of heat exchangers and absorption chillers. Condensing boilers and high efficiency chillers will provide the balance of the HVAC needs. Each classroom will receive HVAC through chilled beam technology affording extremely quiet operation while providing efficient environmental control. In addition, LED lighting, occupancy sensors, low flow fixtures, daylight harvesting, low VOC content and recycled materials are included in the design.

It was important to make sure that the design was compatible with, and supportive of, the New Tech environment. Since the architects and principal were part of the team and participated in both the visioning and design concept charrettes, we asked them to act as peer reviewers.

Ground will be broken later this year for the Delaware New Tech Academy addition to Seaford High School with an anticipated completion date of September 2013. 

Richard D. Moretti, Ed.D, REFP, LEED-AP, is an educational planner with StudioJAED Architects Engineers, Facilities Solutions. He can be reached at [email protected]. Philip R. Conte, AIA, NCARB, a principal/project manager with StudioJAED, can be reached at [email protected].