Architects Rework Exteriors After Feedback From Focus Groups

The Highland Park ISD’s architecture firm Stantec is nearing a final design for the district’s fifth elementary school.

With the district facing rising enrollment projections, voters approved last fall’s bond package to reconstruct three of the four existing elementary schools and add the fifth. Students from Bradfield, Hyer, and University Park will sequentially use the new school while those campuses are being rebuilt.

“We’re creating a new standard for the other schools,” said Jonathan Aldis, the lead architect. “To me it’s the realization of a lot of work and community feedback.”

Response to renderings of the main entrance released in February forced designers back to the drawing board to make sure it feels as grand as the entrances to UP and Bradfield. The result: the addition of an outdoor space to the library on the second story above the entryway.

Three Things

Key features of the new school include the grand entrance, the centrally located library, and interactive learning spaces, such as the garden.

“It starts to get this feeling of this unique identity. We keep hearing, ‘All of our schools have a unique identity, what’s number five going to be?’ I think the outside courtyard and the elements like this start to do it,” Aldis said at the March 15 Board of Trustees meeting.

The school will be located on 4.3 acres on the east side of Northway Christian Church, if the sale of the property is completed this May. The district plans hopes to open the school in August 2017. Balfour Beatty will be the construction manager at risk.

The school will likely be segmented into three zones, Aldis said at the Feb. 9 school board meeting. Classrooms will sit at the south end; the administration offices and library will be in the center; and general use spaces (gym, art rooms, underground parking garage, and cafeteria) will sit at the north end.

To accommodate the slope of the property, which inclines about 19 feet from north to south, the zones will be broken into different stories — three on the south end and two on the north — connected on the ground level by sloped hallways. This will address previous issues regarding students with physical disabilities, he said.

“That’s been a big issue with a lot of the community about having students feel like they’re singled out,” Aldis said. “And when you design a new building, there’s no need for that.”

The board has brought in an outside architect to review Stantec’s plans as a courtesy to the district, according to Facilities Committee chair Jim Hitzelberger. He said the architect said the layout was “genius.”

For classrooms, Stantec plans on creating pods for each grade that would place seven classrooms around a shared learning space to allow for group lessons of all sizes.

“The goal is to give you flexibility of different types of … environments, and really start to warm the interior,” he said. “We’re referring to them as a grade-level living room.

According to Aldis, architects are in discussion about where to put cubbies and white boards, and what materials to use to make it feel less institutional.

“While everyone wants to know what the exterior looks like, honestly we have to emphasize we’re designing this from the inside out,” he said. “One of the main issues of the bond was adequate educational space. And so with the educators we’ve been working with, that’s really been our focus.”

The emphasis on flexible learning space extends to the exteriors, with plans for a garden with a rain recapture system and a possible amphitheater on the west side of the school so that they’re buffered from the street.

According to a traffic consultant group, Masterplan’s, suggestions in February, cars will likely be routed around the building to the north along Northwest Parkway, and then south along Durham Street toward the center of the school for drop-off and pick-up. The door on the Wentwood Drive side could be used as an optional entrance for kids who walk to campus, Aldis said.

A fire lane, delivery, and garage entrance to the property would be added off of the parkway to prevent traffic from interfering with the carpool line and decrease neighborhood vehicle influx.

“We’re making every effort to be the best neighbors we can, acknowledging we’re bringing more traffic,” Aldis said.

Renderings show the facade in a red brick pattern similar to what’s used at Highland Park High School. The base will be a lighter stone. According to Aldis, focus groups made up of community members, didn’t respond well to a buff-tone brick like that used at Bradfield and UP.

“We’re trying to satisfy this elusive comment, that it needs to look like it belongs in the Park Cities,” Aldis said.

There are still a lot of details to work out, such as how many windows to include and what landscaping will be.

“The aesthetic of the exterior of the school is something that we are committed to getting right,” Hitzelberger said in February. “We know how much pride this community has in the look and feel of its schools and we are continuing to refine what we already have.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version said the campus would be located on the west side of Northway Christian.

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