+ Support from neighbors in residential areas surrounding the proposed new site is important. Delays may compromise this support.
+ Any new design for schools should consider community pride and joint-use opportunities.
+ The site strategy places exterior amenities such as the track, courts, and fields so they are easily accessible to the adjacent residential neighborhood.
+ The design takes advantage of small learning communities’ strengths. There is good separation between small schools, more areas for projects and collaborative opportunities, and more opportunities for interaction between students and school staff.
+ Getting the most recent enrollment projections is crucial for accurate planning and design.
+ Environmental assessments and due diligence should take place early in the design process.
Building Great K-12 Schools in Economically Challenging Times
In these tough times making good school design decisions has never been more difficult or more important. To find out how some of the nation’s top architects and administrators are coping with these challenges attend Architectural Record’s Schools of the 21st Century Symposium. It will be held Friday, April 9th, at the Hyatt McCormick Place in Chicago, the day before the NSBA Conference. The event is free of charge and is being presented with the support of McGraw-Hill Education and the American Architectural Foundation.

Click here for more information.

South Los Angeles High School No. 3
Los Angeles USD, Los Angeles, California
An unexpected environmental analysis, and new district enrollment projections, sent an already-completed design back to the drawing board.
By Charles Linn, FAIA

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With 13,000 buildings and a student population of 712,000 the Los Angeles Unified School District is very large and its challenges are complex. Its New Construction Program is valued at over $19 billion and it will deliver 150 new schools by 2012. This major multi-year capital-improvement program is intended to achieve several goals, including the relief of overcrowding, elimination of involuntary busing, and the return of all students to a traditional two-semester calendar. Ideally, every student should attend a neighborhood school with small learning communities within it. This year alone, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) will open 13 new schools to provide over 67,000 new classroom seats. This brings to 65 the total number of new schools opened in recent years. Last year, LAUSD opened the first new comprehensive high school built in Los Angeles since 1971. South Los Angeles is an economically-depressed area that is the home to numerous overcrowded existing public schools. Over 86 percent of students in this area participate in a free- or reduced-cost lunch program, and over 37 percent of them are English-language learners.

Seated: Steve Crane, FAIA, VCBO Architecture, and Amy Yurko, AIA, Brain Spaces. Standing: Ellis Kaufman, director of small learning communities, Facilities Services Division, LAUSD; John Nichols, AIA, Principal, HMC Architects; Guy Mehula, chief facilities executive, LAUSD; Edwin J. Van Ginkel, senior development manager, Facilities Services Division, LAUSD. Photo © Bryan Becker.

Problem statement
The LAUSD representatives brought the design of South Los Angeles High School No. 3 (HS No. 3)to the National School Design Institute charrette. It is a 1,215 seat, two-semester high school that was planned to relieve severe crowding at Manual Arts High School, which was built in 1910 and has an enrollment of 4,100 students. HS No. 3’s design featured three small learning communities with contiguous clusters of classrooms and satellite administrative offices. The project, as planned, would have been constructed on an 8-acre site with approximately 146,000 square feet of building area, excluding the parking garage. The total project budget was nearly $90 million. The school’s opening was planned for the fall of 2009, and its construction documents were complete.

However, during the environmental clearance and due-diligence investigations, unexpected soil and groundwater contamination was discovered on two acres at the northernmost portion of the site, where the LAUSD had intended to build. The extent of the contamination required the reworking of the entire project.

At the same time, a second new high school project, known as South Region High School No. 10, was also planned to further relieve overcrowding at Manual Arts High. South Region No. 10 is a two-semester, 2,025 seat school planned for a 2011 opening. This project would feature four small learning communities. The total project budget for this 75 classroom, 192,663 square-foot high school was $186.5 million, and site selection was due to begin.

Due to both the unforeseen environmental challenges on HS No. 3’s site, and recently updated enrollment projections, the district is considering combining the HS No. 3 and HS No. 10 projects into a single 2,025 seat, two-semester high school project on the No. 3 site. This would largely achieve the LAUSD’s objective of returning all students in the area to a neighborhood school on a two-semester traditional academic calendar. The contaminated portion of the site would not be acquired, but the entire site would have to be expanded to a total of 15 acres.

The challenge for the charrette was to determine whether the completed construction documents for HS No. 3 could be amended to add an additional 800 seats of capacity to the 1,215 seat design, or if LAUSD should start a new design for the project.

As the design process evolved, it became apparent the problem would have to be tackled more as a site analysis than through the redesign of the buildings. Several site plans the group worked out are shown on the previous two pages, and one can see the evolution of the scheme the group settled on there.

The site is rectangular in shape, with its long axis oriented to the north and south, and is bordered on its east, south, and west sides by through-streets. In its earliest iterations, the buildings were located on the south end of the site. Under the redesign, it made more sense to locate the athletic fields in a park-like setting within the residential area at the south site, so they function as a neighborhood amenity. The school buildings are located in the northern end of the site amongst commercial buildings, but face the courtyard at the interior of the site, instead of the surrounding streets.

Finding enough room on the site to accommodate parking for 200 cars was also a challenge. The program calls for 10 basketball courts, which the team placed on slabs supported by columns so that parking could be placed beneath them. The buildings are arranged around a central courtyard which is accessed via a driveway loop that gives access to a visitor parking lot and drop-off area.

The original design demonstrated LAUSD’s commitment to small learning communities (SLCs). At the charrette, a variety of diagrams were developed to show how the small learning community buildings originally designed for High School No. 3 could in fact be utilized with the newly developed site-scheme, although the new program for 2,025 seats requires four SLCs instead of the three originally utilized. The multiuse areas needed include: a field house, two gyms, a performing arts space, and dining and food service. The central plaza includes spaces for group study as well as niches and alcoves for socializing. Outdoor dining is located adjacent to the servery; performance spaces are adjacent to the theater, and presentation/collaboration spaces are next to the SLCs.

The SLCs are the central component of the facilities program. The first completed design had resolved design issues and was based on many hours of committee input. The design team utilized this previous effort and found that its design and resolution of spatial adjacencies worked very well with the selected site scheme, although they did experiment with its circulation patterns. The four SLCs can be arranged as separate individual buildings, or arranged with connecting nodes for common spaces and vertical circulation. Staggering the SLCs provides shaded work areas and direct access to labs. The programmatic needs of different SLCs could be met by adding floors as needed. The final staggered scheme provides ideal solar orientation for daylighting (see sections, opposite page), an improvement over the original design.