CASE STUDY: Blythewood High School, Columbia, South Carolina

OWNER: Richland School District Two
ARCHITECTS: Perkins+Will (design architect)—Steven Turckes, AIA, managing principal; Jerry Johnson,AIA, design principal; Hans Thummel, AIA, senior projectarchitect; The Boudreaux Group (architect of record)—John A. Boudreaux, AIA, principal-in-charge; Heather A. Mitchell, AIA, principal; R. Randall Huth, AIA, principal
CONSULTANTS: Swygert & Associates (mechanical); Belka Engineering Associates (electrical); RB Todd & Associates (civil); Southern Management Group (construction manager)

EXTERIOR MASONRY: Allied Concrete Products and Exum Company
ENTRANCE DOORS: Palmetto Metal Products
WOOD DOORS: Weyerhaeuser
HARDWARE: Corbin Russwin
AUDITORIUM SEATING: Architect Equipment Systems/Hussey
LOCKERS: Tri-State Installations/Lyon

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The Sum of Smaller Parts
On a geographically rich site, a quickly growing South Carolina district builds a large high school with intimate and flexible learning environments
By C.C. Sullivan

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When a fast-growing, progressive school district in suburban Columbia, South Carolina, started planning Blythewood High School in 2001, administrators wanted to create an intimate learning environment despite the need for a building that would accommodate 1,700 students. “Our philosophy is like an elementary school,” says Sharon Buddin, the school’s principal. “We want to know everybody and have students know each other well, too,” she says. The district is a participant in Breaking Ranks II, a national reform movement that advocates development of small learning communities, or SLCs, within large high schools.

A small tower marks the curved entrance to the school, where a dramatically sloped roof covers an ample, largely glass-enclosed lobby (above). The building is configured to take advantage of the site’s natural assets, including a 10-acre pond and surrounding woods. The design and construction team also preserved the site's ecologically sensitive wetlands through careful planning (below). Photo © James Steinkamp.

On a 140-acre wooded site, notable for wetlands and a 10-acre pond—as well as for a major highway running along its western flank—the Richland School District Two envisaged Blythewood as a high school with four themed zones geared toward business, health, engineering, and the humanities, supporting a dozen “career clusters.” Each of these zones would have a dedicated locker common and a faculty planning area. Shared by the SLCs—informally known as “houses”—would be laboratories, a media center, a wellness center, a 500-seat theater, and other common facilities. The site also would have to accommodate a 6,000-seat, district-wide stadium with separate vehicular access.

Flexible and focused
Planning workshops involving designers, educators, community members, and students produced a profile of “a learner-centered, teacher-focused facility with flexible spaces to accommodate groups as small as six kids at a time,” says the project’s lead design architect, Steven Turckes, AIA, a principal at Chicago-based Perkins+Will. Rather than the departmental model more typical of a traditional high school, Blythewood’s program and spatial organization reflects its interdisciplinary and collaborative curriculum, he says.

Although wireless connectivity is available throughout the school, the second-floor “cyber cafe” is intended as a place for informal student interaction. It is located directly above, and is open to, the lobby below. Photo © James Steinkamp.

Capitalizing on the site’s rich natural features, the 294,000-square-foot, two-story building hugs the pond. Linked along the north side of a circulation and administrative spine, four projecting volumes contain the houses and provide views over the water. Science labs linked to double-story technology studios—large multifunction rooms for undertaking school projects—line the south side of this spine.

A small tower draws the eye toward the curved entry, where a dramatically sloped roof covers an ample, largely glass-enclosed lobby. This area connects to administrative offices, the cafeteria and student commons, a media center and “cyber cafe,” as well as a culinary arts lab. Beyond these central facilities are the theater, arts and music classrooms, two gymnasiums, and locker rooms.

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