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New school breaks old design mold

The county's fourth high school will be hurricane-resistant, have lots of glass and still be quite functional.

By ROBERT KING

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000


In the age of maximum security education, it is a school with no fence.

In a county where half the schools have no discernible front door, it has a main entrance designed to funnel people in during the day and call them home like a "beacon" at night.

In an age when there is political pressure to stick to cookie-cutter schools, this one is a Hernando County original.

The county's fourth public high school, to open in 2002, has taken a year to design and incorporates suggestions from teachers, business leaders and its principal. But unlike some projects-by-committee, this one has produced a bold result.

The new school, which voters in 1998 approved along with a new sales tax to pay for it, will emphasize vocational and technical programs. But it will be more than a shell for shop classes. Here's a look at some of its features.

Beacons of light

Estimated to cost $34.2-million, the school is drawn up as a two-story brick building.

But it will use dramatic splashes of glass at the front entrance, in the library and at the lobby of the school's gymnasium to allow the sun's light in and man's light out.

Building codes demand a certain amount of light. But John Pehling, who is directing the design process for the architectural firm Reynolds, Smith & Hills, said natural light is especially important to a school.

It tends to give people a sense of well-being that artificial light can't match. In the library, students will sit next to a massive semi-circular window that offers a panoramic view of the courtyard.

All that light should help make reading easier. But Pehling says studies also have shown natural light makes people more productive.

At night, Pehling says the windows will serve as a lantern. If an event is being staged in the school, the interior lights shining out of the front lobby will act as a beacon to draw people from the dark. If there's a game in the gymnasium, lights from the glassed lobby will attract people to that door.

There is some discussion, however, about whether all that sunlight will add too much to cooling costs. But look for light to remain.

The first impression

Aside from its beacon, the emphasis on having a discernible front entrance is evident in other ways. The front door will be directly in view for drivers as soon as they turn into the main entrance.

Beyond that, the glassy entrance will be framed on both sides by classrooms in a way that should almost form an "entry courtyard." Pehling says this will help "funnel" people into the front door.

All the attention to the front door may seem excessive. But for years visitors to schools such as Central High and Pine Grove Elementary have been challenged to find a way in.

"In any building, you ought to be able to go up to it and know where the central entrance is," said Graydon Howe, the school district's facilities director.

To help traffic flow, the school will actually be a good distance from California Street. Part of the idea is to create longer access roads to the front door so traffic can collect without backing up into the street during drop-off and pickup times.

Shaped for safety

From overhead, pilots using the Hernando County Airport will see a school built in the shape of a squashed doughnut with a bite missing.

The missing bite reflects the fact that planners put more into the school's design than the School Board can initially pay for. The goal for later is to fill in the hole, which represents one of the six classroom wings.

The idea for a two-story brick doughnut with a courtyard for a hole came from two schools in St. Johns County that were designed by the architects for this school.

Hernando's doughnut is squashed because the school will be bigger than those in St. Johns. Architects stretched the doughnut, flattening the hole and evoking a squashed look.

Pastry analogies aside, the courtyard within the brick perimeter will be the size of a football field. Landscaped and with benches, the courtyard will give students a place that's shielded from the outside world. Once the missing bite is filled, the academic building will need no fencing.

The doughnut design lends itself to safety in two other respects. The administration building, where the principal and her staff will work, has a commanding view of the courtyard and the mingling.

Second, teachers should find it easy to monitor the hallways merely by being stationed at a few key points around the circle. Because of the design, there are no dead ends or obscure corners -- places designers refer to as "morality pockets" -- that create opportunities for bad things to happen.

Emphasis on labs

In most high schools, vocational labs and academic classrooms are often on opposite ends. But at Hernando's new high school, vo-tech and academics will be closely wed.

Educators want classes such as English, science, math and even history to overlap the themes being tackled in the labs. English papers written by automotive body repair students will, for instance, have a more technical angle.

To further that interconnection, vo-tech labs are scattered through the building. And each has academic classrooms nearby. Practically speaking, students won't have to walk as far. But it will also tie their vo-tech and academic programs in ways not seen at other county schools or many other places in Florida.

Windows and courtyards aside, the stars of the school will be its laboratories. There will be four standard-size science labs of 1,000 square feet. But there will also be nine specialty labs of 4,000 square feet each -- all equipped with an average of $200,000 in equipment.

The auto service tech lab will have a five-bay garage with five hydraulic vehicle lifts. There will even be a smart car -- a vehicle specially altered so teachers can program specific malfunctions that students must find and fix.

The construction science lab will be big enough to allow students to frame up parts of a house, examine and tear apart air conditioners and tackle other big jobs.

The veterinary assistant's lab will have an operational kennel with a dog run and small animal quarantine room.

The agri-science lab will have a working greenhouse and a storage building for riding lawn mowers and other big equipment. It will be placed near the athletic fields -- a living laboratory for the turf maintenance program. And, because these students will be getting dirty during their studies, the agri-science area will have shower rooms.

Shelter from the storm

Because of new state requirements, the school will contain $1.5-million worth of hurricane protection. Walls will be designed to withstand 140 mph winds. But the windows must withstand windblown debris impacts of up to 129 mph, something akin to a Category 3 hurricane. The gym will be designated as a public storm shelter.

A reinforced roof system, emergency power generators and ties to nearby utilities mean the gym should be standing, with working water, power and sewer systems even if the rest of the county is in ruins.

While the new school will field teams in several sports, its football, baseball, softball and soccer teams won't initially have a home turf. Budget constraints will likely force athletes to make do with a bare-bones practice field. Bleachers, restrooms and concession buildings will have to wait for more money. To begin, the teams will play their home games at other county schools.

When games do come to the new school, there should be plenty of parking. Aside from the 521 parking spots on campus, fans will be able to put their cars in the sizeable parking lot that bus drivers use next door during the day.

That's just one aspect of how the new school will play off its neighbors. To save on air-conditioning costs, the new school will share a common chiller plant with Chocachatti Elementary.

A NEW SCHOOL

LOCATION: On 51.6 acres fronting California Street, about a half-mile north of the Hernando County Airport, between Chocachatti Elementary School and the district's school bus center.

EXPECTED LIFESPAN: 100 years

COST: Estimated at $34.2-million.

SIZE: 201,952 square feet (about the size of Central High School)

STUDENT CAPACITY: 1,302 initially, expandable to 1,527

KEY FEATURES: Two stories; football field-sized interior courtyard; multiple labs ranging from 1,000 square feet to 4,000 square feet.

TIMELINE:

  • Nov. 21, 2000: School Board to vote on design.
  • Jan. 3, 2001: Ground to be broken; construction work to begin.
  • Jan. 18, 2001: Construction manager Centex Rooney is scheduled to give the School Board a guaranteed maximum price for the completed project.
  • July 19, 2002: Construction to be complete.
  • August 2002: New school to open.

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