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LESSONS LEARNED:
School construction projects can often reach far beyond their primary purpose, which is providing space for students to learn
+ School construction projects provide an opportunity for the community to assist in moving both the school district and the region forward. Each brick laid represents a building block for both the school and the region's future.
+ Local business leaders and higher education institutions offer schools a valuable source of information and resources.
+ School construction projects stimulate the local economy. In fact, significant district projects often are the largest scale construction effort in their immediate community.
+ Students benefit from educational activities that weave real life learning into the curriculum. The incubator labs are seen as springboards to economic development in the region.
+ Everyone benefits when students gain skills that match local economic needs. School academic and construction programs can work in concert to create both employment training and career opportunities to students.

The wisdom behind reusing historic school buildings
+ An opportunity exists to bridge the proud past of these schools with a vision for the future and to acknowledge the achievements and traditions valued by the alumni while sowing the seeds for the next generation of graduates.
+ Opportunities exist for utilizing historic schools, many of which have superior daylight and ventilation characteristics, for delivering education within smaller communities of learning.
+ Providing accessibility for all, in a gracious and inviting manner, is one key element to transforming our historic schools into resources for our communities.
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.

School of Entrepreneurship
Buffalo School District, Buffalo, New York
The School of Entrepreneurship is part of a plan to create schools that will provide Buffalo students the skills they need to start their own small businesses.
By Charles Linn, FAIA

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Buffalo is a city of 300,000, down from a peak of almost 600,000 in 1950, due to the erosion of its industrial economy. The Buffalo Public Schools have 37,000 students, a number that has been decreasing due to both general population decline and a rise in the number of charter schools. In 2005 the new superintendent of schools, Dr. James A. Williams, introduced a plan for increasing student achievement, with the ultimate goal of a 100 percent graduation rate for Buffalo students. He led development of a three-year academic achievement plan to strengthen reading and mathematics instruction. As part of this plan, he is implementing a high school reform initiative that addresses both the structure and curriculum of district high schools.


Standing from left to right, Buffalo School District superintendent James A. Williams, Ed.D; Donald Gray, AIA, Wendell Duchscherer Architects and Engineers; Philip Lewis, AIA, HMFH Architects, Donna M. Brown, director of community outreach, LP Ciminelli, Inc. Seated: Amber Dixon, executive director for project initiatives Buffalo School District; Ann Schopf, AIA, Mahlum Architects. Photo © Bryan Becker.

The Challenge
Working with local community leaders, Williams identified small business creation, not the return of large industry, as critical to the economic future of the city. He directed his staff to begin looking at creating a small school for entrepreneurship to be housed at Riverside High School, a 1930s building along the Niagara River. The renovation of this school is scheduled to be part of the Joint Schools Construction Project, a $1 billion, state-supported initiative to rebuild Buffalo’s aging schools.

Buffalo had already developed a draft plan for the School of Entrepreneurship program and the initial design drawings for the renovation of Riverside High School. The task presented at the National School Design Institute (NSDI) charrette was to design this small, specialized learning environment to coexist within the larger building.

The Solution
The 80-year old Riverside High School, an urban, four-story school slated for $30 to $40 million worth of renovation is to house small academies of learning for 900 students. A completed schematic design showed the renovation would comply with the educational needs of the district and also conform to the NY State Historic Preservation Office requirements. As part of this work, an addition was planned on the south side of the building to accommodate team lockers, public restrooms, and training rooms in support of the athletic program. The NSDI charrette team was charged with making one of these small academies into an entrepreneurial business program featuring incubator labs that would create relevance in learning for students. The concept is committed to incorporating business expertise into the academic program, with the goal to assist in improving the economy of the area by producing expertise for small business development. Here, in partnership with community business people and local universities, students will put into practice what they are learning in the classroom by establishing and operating start-up businesses to provide goods and services to the school and the neighborhood.

During the course of the charrette, issues around building security, accessibility, and zoning surfaced when discussions revealed the building would be in use 12 hours a day. This presented a problem because the old school simply did not lend itself to closing off areas not in use. Dr. Williams suggested that the vision be altered from a single, small school focused on entrepreneurial business, to a whole building approach that would contain three academies, each with its own entrepreneurial focus. This satisfied the need to create a sense of direction for the program, creating a clearer vision for the entire school, while preserving the educational advantages of the small, focused learning environment. The entire building would be operational from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. so entrepreneurship could be supported holistically.        

The four-story school had recent renovations to its third-floor library and fourth-floor science labs, and these needed to be retained for budgetary reasons. This physical constraint, along with the distribution of available space on each floor, began to drive the placement of the academic areas of each entrepreneurial academy. A quick analysis showed that each of the three top floors could share space with one communal function, but also contain the required dedicated learning and support spaces for one individual academy, reinforcing community and identity. To create strong community partnerships with the incubator spaces, and to tie the program into the business community, it was determined that the incubator labs for all the academies be located together on the lowest level of the school, highly visible to each other and easily accessible to the community. In doing so, the floor could be a synergistic and experimental environment for learning.

The historic building, again, posed some challenges. The main entrance to the school is accessed via an exterior monumental stair that rises up an entire floor, bypassing the lowest level, to a main entry above. The lowest level is very close to existing grade with access to daylight on all sides. In addition, two light wells provide daylight into the core of the building down to this level. Handicapped access to the entire school was through a small side door from an adjacent parking lot. If the incubator level was to provide links to community, its accessibility and visibility had to be improved. While the monumental entrance to the floor above remains operational, a new handicap accessible main entrance path will wrap around and enter below the grand stair. In addition, both floors will be tied together by a pair of flanking double-height spaces providing unity, light, and importance to the visitors’ introduction to the school at both levels.

At the lower level, the design solution provides a series of flexible lab spaces organized along the building’s perimeter, capitalizing on the abundant daylight with continuous visual links into the labs from the corridors.

Also at this level, the bottoms of the light wells are enlivened; one is landscaped to provide an attractive focal point around a student gathering/break-out space. The other becomes a skylit focal point for food service. The team decided that by locating casual seating and display areas near the two light wells a focal point at each of the school’s four levels would be created. Students using these spaces can be supervised because administrative and counseling offices have been dispersed throughout the building.

Enlarged athletic fields make use of abandoned railroad right-of-way, and are rotated away from the building, in order to space for a new detached sports pavilion while respecting the symmetry of the existing school. The pavilion creates a protected south-facing terrace that will support exterior dining and concessions. A new parking lot will support service, staff and special events.