CASE STUDY: Alpine School District Prototype Middle Schools, Alpine and Lehi, Utah

Owner: Alpine School District
Architect: VCBO Architecture—Steve H. Crane, FAIA, principal-in-charge; Vern Latham, AIA, project manager; Boyd McAllister, AIA, project designer; Jeanne Jackson, AIA, project designer
Consultantants: Bsumek Mu & Associates P.C. (structural); Van Beorum & Frank (mechanical); BNA Consulting Engineers II (electrical); Ensign Engineering (lanscape); Spectrum Engineers (acoustical); Hogan and Associates (general contractor)

Masonry: Buehner Block Company
Metal/glass curtainwall: United States Aluminum
Skylights: Kalwall
Cermic tile: Dal-Tile
Plastic laminate: Wilsonart International
Lockers: Republic Storage Systems
Bleachers: Hussey Seating Company

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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.

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Seeing Double
Fast-growing district saves millions by building two nearly identical schools tailored to its needs
By Joann Gonchar, AIA

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To satisfy its need for two new middle schools on a very tight budget, a quickly growing Utah district, located between Provo and Salt Lake City, decided to build two, almost identical schools for different sites. The approach saved almost $2 million, say the architect and district and officials.

Before building the almost identical Timberline and Willowcreek Middle Schools (above and below, respectively) Alpine School District held several collaborative planning meetings involving a diverse set of stakeholders. The approach saved $1.8 million and produced buildings well suited to the district’s needs. Photo © Dana Sohm.

The buildings, Timberline and Willowcreek Middle Schools, were bid simultaneously and won by Centerville, Utah-based contractor, Hogan Associates. Construction was slightly staggered, however, with completion of the first school, Timberline, in the fall of 2003, and the opening of the second building a year later.

Both schools were built for roughly $35 million total, saving Alpine School District about $1.8 million, according to Steve Crane, FAIA, principal of VCBO Architecture, Salt Lake City, the project’s designer. These savings were achieved primarily through bulk purchasing of materials and the ability of the contractor to send subcontractors from one site to the other. “Once subs move on its hard to get them back,” Crane says.

Although the buildings are prototype schools, they are far from cookie cutter. “They are not like anything we’ve built before,” says John Childs, district administrator. The schools are in part the product of a series of collaborative planning meetings that included the architect, educators, maintenance staff, community members, and at the insistence of Crane, students. One of the tasks he assigned to students was photographing elements of their current schools that they liked and disliked.

These meetings, and the subsequent design process, produced a two-story prototype with exterior bearing walls made of split-faced block, alternating with walls clad in deep-colored ribbed metal. The variety of textures helps define separate masses in the large building. The materials were also chosen for their durability and resistance to vandalism. “The block is not inviting to graffiti,” notes Crane.

The double-story cafeteria is more than just a space for dining. It has Internet access, a small stage, and equipment for showing movies. Photo © Dana Sohm.

Inside, the 180,000-square-foot school is organized around a cross-shaped circulation zone that divides the plan into quadrants. Because of its openness, the area is easily supervised by just two teachers.

On the first floor, at the center of the circulation zone, is the commons and a double-height cafeteria area. Also on this level are the gymnasium, an 800-seat auditorium, and facilities for music and visual art instruction. The media center, located on the second floor, offers views of the surrounding landscape.

Collaboration and community
But the most notable feature of the design is its grade-level specific academic learning centers or “houses.” The prototype has four of these centers total—two per floor. They divide each school’s 1,500-students into smaller, more intimate learning communities.

A house is composed of classrooms, a teacher preparation area, lockers, and a collaboration space, intended to accommodate team teaching, group learning, or individual study. The shared spaces are sometimes used by students who finish tests before the others, according to Crane. They can leave the classroom and start another project while still being supervised by the teacher, he says.

The classrooms are connected to these shared collaboration areas with glass garage doors. When closed, the doors prevent noise from traveling between the spaces, while still maintaining the visual connection.

The flexibility of the school’s facilities extends beyond its classrooms and houses. The auditorium, for example, can be split with a curtain and projection screen to create a lecture hall at the rear of the space. And if a school play draws only a small audience, the divider can help the event seem better attended, Crane points out.

The school has other multi-use spaces. The cafeteria doubles as an Internet cafe. It also has a stage and large TV screen for movies, announcements, and other programs. “We can use it throughout the day,” says Childs.

This flexibility and functionality have so satisfied the district that it plans to build two more middle schools, using the same prototype, as part of a $230 million bond passed by voters in November. Changes to the design will be very minor, according to Childs. “We like what we’ve done,” he says.