• Faith, persistence, and perseverance are keys to success for any group that has suffered serious losses.
• A shift in purpose from simply restoring school buildings as quickly as possible to helping to restore the community is a holistic solution beneficial to all.
• Creating a plan that features community use of spaces and facilities will enhance the design.
• To gain support from the stakeholders, it is imperative to bring all constituents, including community members, into the master planning process.
• Dare to dream, and then work to fit that dream into the realistic parameters.
• Networking and collaboration are keys to designing the ideal project.
• The charrette process is greatly aided by gathering as much information as possible. Building code and zoning information, documentation, and evaluation of existing conditions, existing plans, even real estate appraisals can be helpful.
• Once a master plan is developed, incrementally phased improvements can be made intelligently. The plan should include a detailed program of present and future requirements.
• Though there was an urgency to rebuild and reopen the school, great benefit would have been derived from a master planning-phase prior to the new construction.
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.

St. Paul's Episcopal School
New Orleans, Louisiana
The staff of a destroyed school used the charrette to reconsider its master plan and the organization of their classroom buildings.

<< Return to charrette index

St. Paul's Episcopal School and Church are located in the heart of Lakeview, a neighborhood in northwest New Orleans. In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina collapsed a section of the 17th Street Canal levee near St. Paul's, and Lakeview becaome one of the most severely devastated sections of the city. Seventy percent of the families and faculty lost everything in the flood. The neighborhood is now showing signs of renewal, although the return of infrastructure, businesses, and services has been slow. Only 40 percent of the residential community around the school has returned. The current enrollment numbers allow for a comfortable existence in the present building configuration, however, student enrollment is now about half of what it was before the storm, as is the size of the faculty. The school will not survive unless it returns to full enrollment.

Master plans
The plan at left examined existing conditions at the site. Below it, Master Plan I looks at new traffic patterns and short-term needs. The Master Plan II looks at long-range plans, including acquisition of new property. Below are three of five plans that resulted from a detailed examination of how the halves of the main school building, rendered in ochre, might be reorganized to reflect the school's educational programs.
Photos © James O'Byrne

The Challenge

In 2005, St. Paul's had 260 students and a reputation for excellence in general academics. It also was known for its science, arts, and community-outreach programs. The campus was made up of six buildings, a play area, and parking lot, and it stretched across three acres. Of the original buildings, two for the primary grades were renovated and reopened in the fall of 2006. A third building, designed to house the youngest students, was restored and opened in the fall of 2007.

The Solution

"Come hell or high water" and "the little school that could" became the themes for the new St. Paul's Episcopal School, and the mission of the school is equally ambitious–to create a learning environment where students are positioned to be global citizens and stewards of both the earth and each other through innovations in both the learning environment and curriculum. The core would be teaching the connection–and impact positively or negatively–that each person can have on our environment, our community, and the world beyond.

After articulating this lofty goal, participants of the charrette began to recognize that realizing it demanded an unrestricted rethinking of both the layout of the campus and the way the buildings are organized. The group began with an analysis of the conditions and usage of the campus and its assets before and after Katrina.

The site analysis revealed several problems that are not uncommon among campuses that have grown up over time. The school's entrance was obscured from the street and unwelcoming. Within the site, vehicular circulation conflicted with pedestrian traffic. There was a need for a central gathering space, and a central campus arrival, drop-off, and distribution point. In addition, outdoor spaces were not being fully utilized or oriented to surrounding buildings. And finally, the buildings that still existed were oriented in such a way that future development opportunities were impeded.

The St. Paul's team, clockwise from left: Chris Graae, AIA, Cox Graae + Spack Architects; Rebecca Buras, St. Paul's business and project manager; Joy Tessman, curriculum specialist; Margaret Kirn, junior warden of the vestry, St. Paul's Episcopal Church; Merry Sorrells, head of school; Steve Crane, FAIA, VCBO Architecture. Not pictured: Reverend Will Hood
Photo © Bryan Becker

The first master plan that was developed explored the first of a multi-phased expansion of the campus. Various parts included the replacement of a damaged two-story classroom building adapted from a house with new state-of-the-art science center that would transparently express its purpose at an important corner of the site. The vehicle circulation and student dropoff point would be relocated, allowing the construction of a bright, welcoming central lobby in the main school building. A bridge would connect the interior circulation paths through this central space at the second floor of the main school building; it would overlook the new lobby. Reconfiguration of second floor classroom spaces would better accommodate the school's new educational program.

A proposed second-phase development plan suggested ideas for subsequent development and campus expansion. These included acquisition of the northeast quarter of the block where the campus is located, exploration of a public/private partnership for a performing arts center that did not exist in the area. Vehicular circulation would be relocated to the perimeter of the site to promote a safe and cohesive campus center.

The surface parking lot would be replaced with a more efficient, expanded multistory parking garage. Finally, the one-story early education building that was recently constructed, but not master planned, would be replaced with a new multi-story academic building. One of the new plans offered ideas of how St. Paul's environmental orientation might be integrated into the site and buildings. Its new buildings should embody LEED Silver–level high-performance building standards in design and materials specifications, expressing energy efficient systems architecturally to promote learning and understanding. Many ideas were explored, including the incorporation of onsite storm water management principles; the use of geothermal well fields to support heat pump systems; use of wind and solar power, natural ventilation, and daylighting; rainwater collection and graywater recycling; trash and materials recycling; reduction of runoff and heat island effects through the use of permeable pathway systems, and green landscapes; highly reflective and green roofs; and a living outdoor classroom and lab to promote understanding of indigenous plants and food crops.

As the charrette drew to a close, the school's short-term needs, long-term master planning, and concept-design goals were all summed up in a series of drawings and bullet points. St. Paul's representatives believe the work done at the charrette will help inform their constituents so all may move forward in their quest to revitalize their campus and engage their community.

Solutions for securing the future of St. Paul's will have to come from within. The future of the school, the neighborhood, and the city are interwoven. It is through this interconnection that the solution for St. Paul's is to be found. The school is looking to the future with a bold vision for the study of the sciences which will incorporate the highest standards of sustainable "green" planning and design, along with a comprehensive curriculum incorporating study of environmental issues at every grade level. Now, having been through Katrina, students throughout the region seem to have a unique sensitivity to environmental issues and their impact on their daily lives. This rebuilding plan will give all of the students in this area the opportunity for innovative learning, which may well provide the basis for them to create real-world solutions in the future.