• A balance has to be maintained, reflecting the importance of having new facilities that enhance, support, and show off the uniqueness of the school and students.
• During a charrette, everyone must be mindful of the very real budget constraints, yet continue to be creative.
• Keeping construction systems simple can help keep costs down.
• Budgets need to be realistic so the amount of money allocated for construction actually yields the space the school needs to operate.
• Priorities may need to be re-examined as a project goes forward. The charrette helped establish that allowing visitors to view the research and how the students operate within the learning environment was imperative.
• One potential strategy for this school would be to create inexpensive, large-bay space that then could be outfitted through research grants or foundation money.
• Budgets should be flexible, so that as design goes on money can be allocated where needed, either to new construction or renovation.
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.

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
Fairfax County Public Schools, Fairfax, Virginia
An imaginative approach to updating a 45-year-old building will accommodate the unique needs of exceptionally bright students.

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Fairfax county Public Schools serve about 165,000 students in 197 schools. The system is nationally recognized for academic excellence. Ninety-two percent of its graduates go on to postsecondary education, and Newsweek recently listed FCPS high schools in the top 3 percent of public high schools in the nation. This was based on the Challenge Index, which measures a school's effort to challenge students. Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHS) is one of its showplaces. It offers college preparatory programs emphasizing the sciences, mathematics, and technology and serves students from the region. Seventy-five percent of them are Fairfax County residents as required by its charter, and the rest come from surrounding areas.

Fairfax team members left to right, Richard Moniuszko, deputy superintendent; Evan Glazer, principal; Geoff Lewis, AIA, community representative; Laura Wernick, AIA, HMFH Architects; Jack Dale, assistant superintendent; John Pfluger, AIA, Cuningham Group Architecture; Dave Printz, coordinator FCPS capital projects.
Photos © Bryan Becker

Students are selected through a competitive application and admissions process. TJHS has the only "magnet program" in Fairfax County.

The Challenge

There are several ways in which TJHS's building is deficient. One is that the current facility has a capacity of 1,600, but enrollment is growing toward 2,000. Twenty-five "learning cottages" are used to house classes outside the main building, separating students and teachers from their peers. A second issue is that students at TJHS need a central area to support students' informal interactions. They socialize, eat, teach each other, and learn everywhere in the building, often at inconvenient hallway intersections, and even spread themselves across the floors of the corridors. There is a need for interdisciplinary incubator spaces that would allow teachers from different subject areas to help students see how the cross-pollination of ideas can be used to generate innovative and multidimensional solutions to difficult problems.

Finally, the building does not present visitors with an image of the school's unique mission, that is, to be a technology school that is a living body of inquiry that supports the skills and values essential to critical inquiry and research, problem solving, intellectual curiosity, and social responsibility.

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