Architect: Orcutt | Winslow — Russ R. Sanders, AIA, project architect; Paul D. Winslow, FAIA, partner in charge; Ellen Tehan, interior designer
CONSULTANTS: Zee Engineering (electrical); Kraemer Consulting Engineers (mechanical);
Hess-Rountree (civil); Caruso Turley Scott (structural); Sloat Landscape Architects
CLIENT: Phoenix Union High School District

SIZE: 52,456 square feet
COST: $11.4 million

MASONRY: Sun Valley Masonry
CURTAIN WALL: Carlson Glass
CONCRETE: Tpac (precast); Jones Concrete (tilt-up)
ROOFING: Neogard
METAL DOORS: Nelson Holland
ELEVATORS: ThyssenKrupp
PLASTIC LAMINATE: Wilsonart; Formica
LIGHTING: Peerless; Zumtobel
LAB CASEWORK: Fisher Hamilton

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CASE STUDY: Phoenix Union Bioscience High School, Phoenix, Arizona, Orcutt | Winslow

By Scott Blair

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Phoenix Union Bioscience High School
Phoenix Union Bioscience High School’s exterior panels feature a relief design depicting large fossil shapes. The design was created by pouring concrete over Styrofoam forms the architects made from computer models. Once the concrete set, the forms were carefully drilled out of the concrete.
Photo: © A.F. Payne

Located in the heart of downtown Phoenix, the Phoenix Union Bioscience High School provides Arizona’s most ethnically diverse school district with a highly specialized campus that takes full advantage of the city’s rapid growth as a hotbed for biotechnical research and development. The school’s 400 students focus on math and science and use nearby hospitals and biotechnical institutions through off-site projects and internships. “We embrace a multifaceted approach to learning, focused on relationships with community partners and extending learning beyond the walls of the school,” says principal DeeDee Falls.

The 52,000-square-foot rectangular building houses 15 classrooms that can be combined or subdivided to fit a variety of lesson plans and projects. Double-size classrooms occupy opposite ends of the second and third floors and are used for team-teaching classes such as bioethics and “phalgebra,” a combo of physics and algebra. With no dedicated faculty offices, students and teachers comingle in the same spaces, emphasizing the type of interaction and collaboration found at colleges and biomedical campuses. Open, flexible spaces dubbed student learning studios act as buffers between the double classrooms and hallways. Seven high-tech labs, some modeled after real labs found in biomedical facilities, are equipped with fume hoods, centrifuges, and other specialized devices. Rolling smart-board kiosks, laptop charging carts, and a mixture of group seating and independent areas add to the college feel. “We wanted it to be rigorous, yet provide students with more autonomy and responsibility,” Falls says.

The architects at Orcutt | Winslow used building information modeling to convey their design to school officials. “We modeled everything, down to the light switches and gas ports,” says project architect Russ Sanders, AIA.

The $11.4 million school uses a simple palette of materials. Sited appropriately for the Sonoran Desert environment, windowless tilt-up concrete panels on the east and west sides reduce solar gain. A large, three-story high, light-filled “town hall” along the south wall serves as a cafeteria and assembly area and is lined with three garage-style roll-up doors. A monolithic steel staircase ascends all the way to the school’s top floor.
While not aiming for LEED certification, the design incorporates sustainable solar hot water in the labs, and waterless urinals and low-flow fixtures in bathrooms. A framework for photovoltaic panels was incorporated into the roof, intended for future student experimentation.

Since opening, Bioscience High School’s test scores have validated its unique approach to learning. According to Falls, it “annihilated” the rest of Arizona in math scores, and its students have excelled in reading and writing. Incredibly, this is within a district where more than half the students come from homes where English is not the primary language.

“There’s a sense of pride,” Falls says. “The students love it here.”

Phoenix-based Scott Blair is senior regional editor of Southwest Contractor and Southwest bureau chief for Engineering News-Record.


A three-story high, light-filled “town hall” serves as a cafeteria and assembly area and is lined with three garage-style roll-up doors. (top); A platform extends out from the rear of the building and is used as a stage for presentations, with students seated on the lawn. Most assemblies occur in the town hall. (2nd from top); The brightly colored lab prep area extends along the northern wall of Bioscience High School’s third floor. (3rd from top); From the third-floor lounge, students can look out to views of downtown Phoenix. In the foreground is the McKinley School, the district’s first elementary school, built in 1919. It is being renovated to house administration offices and additional classroom and lab space for the new high school. (bottom);
Photos: © A.F. Payne

Students conduct experiments in the generously sized physics lab. (top); A flurry of activity animates the chemistry lab. The school’s high-tech labs were modeled after professional labs found in biomedical facilities. (above);
Photos: © A.F. Payne

1) Historic school building 2) Parking 3) Bicycle storage 4) Town hall 5) Service yard 6) Kitchen 7) Bathroom 8) Exercise 9) Art 10) Music 11) Classroom 12) Student studio 13) Physics lab 14) Teacher workroom 15) Outdoor lab 16) Biochemistry lab 17) Lab prep 18) Elevator 19) Lounge