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Form Plus Function

A look at seven of the coolest buildings opening this school year.

By Jacqueline Heinze | September 2006

Find the most thought-provoking new schools on these next few pages, and let yourself be inspired: A large high school provides intimate learning environments. A historic building morphs into a school for the future. A refurbished fitness center serves students with special needs. A district cuts costs and improves student achievement by locating two schools on the same site. An elementary school becomes a community center. A green school makes the investment now for the payoff in the long run. And more...


Camino Nuevo High School: The construction and plans of this aesthetically inventive small school in the heart of L.A.

Get small in a large city

Wedged into the center of a congested intersection near downtown Los Angeles, Camino Nuevo High School is an oasis for its students. The 600-by-90-foot site is a narrow island surrounded by heavily trafficked streets. The curving, metal-clad, two-story building acts as a protective barrier for high schoolers, while the windows and perforated walls link them to their community. Open space encircles the building, connecting classrooms to the outdoors. An elevated sports deck maximizes the limited space, giving students plenty of room to play.

The Four Corners School
At the Four Corners School, splashes of color liven up an otherwise subdued and calm environment for students with special needs.

Reuse buildings

In a quest for a new space to serve its K-5 students who could not be mainstreamed, Reynolds School District negotiated the purchase of an abandoned racquetball and fitness center out of foreclosure. After consulting psychologists about the students' needs, the designers went to work to create a safe environment with natural lighting, muted tones, and durable materials. The school is located at the point where four school districts meet. The hope is that all the districts will use the school as a haven for students with behavioral problems.

Parkside Elementary School

Colorful blocks throughout Parkside Elementary are meant to spark students' curiosity.

Make it fun

The design of Parkside Elementary School reflects its paradigm for learning: that it should be collaborative and fun. To support the project-based curriculum, classroom wings are clustered around a flexible space that accommodates both large and small group activities. Parkside also incorporates a building-blocks theme intended to stimulate young imaginations. The building's facade is organized into colossal blocks of color, and inside, flooring and classroom doors echo the design. The collaboration spaces feature ceramic tiles made by students.

Delano Educational Center

LaVina Middle School and Harvest Elementary School share a campus, but each has its own entranceway and identity.

Share services

This district knows how to share and save. The 35-acre educational center houses two schools: La Vina Middle School and Harvest Elementary School. Students from both use the central kitchen and media center. Sharing facilities not only cuts costs but also provides the kids with spaces more impressive than the schools could afford on their own. The district also saves on water, sewer, power, and busing expenses. Learning improves, too. Middle schoolers run next door to tutor younger students, and teachers have an easier time coordinating the curriculum as students transition from elementary to middle school.

Isleta Elementary School
The new elementary school reflects the culture of Isleta Pueblo.

Connect with the community

To support their strong cultural identity, residents of Isleta Pueblo made sure their new school works for everyone. During non-school hours, residents use the indoor and outdoor eating spaces, gymnasium, physical therapy classroom, and language classrooms-where, during the day, students learn to speak their native language, Tiwa. Pueblo elders visit the media center, where they have a designated space for storytelling. The school also serves as a teaching tool to introduce students to the pueblo's agricultural tradition: The entranceway replicates the corridor of the nearby Rio Grande, and students use planting areas to sow the crops that grow along the river.

Great Seneca Creek Elementary School

Great Seneca Elementary School makes the most of the sun to keep it warm and well lit.

Save energy

Sloping ceilings, waterless urinals, a bright white rooftop, and lots of deep holes in the ground (as part of a geo-thermal system) all contribute to Great Seneca Creek Elementary School's plan to be green. Prior to finalizing the design, the district's Green Schools Program worked alongside the district's Division of Construction to ensure that the school incorporated as many environmentally sound features as possible. Signs, posted throughout the school's interior, teach kids the importance of the environment and the best ways to conserve. Although building a green school can cost more up front than a traditional school, Seneca is confident that what it saves in energy bills will provide a return on its investment.

Roosevelt High School

Roosevelt High School prepares for the future by mixing modern with historic.

Preserve history

While older schools have great historic value, it's tricky to preserve these buildings while transforming them into 21st-century learning environments. At Roosevelt High School, architects began by stripping the building of its outdated elements to reveal its original structure and finishes. Additions to the school were designed to match the historic building. The auditorium, at the heart of the high school, was transformed into a high-tech library. Surrounding it, classroom space was configured to suit small learning communities, with the idea that teaching techniques continue to change. The space is flexible enough to adjust to the next trend in educational thinking.

GlenOak High School

Alongside GlenOak High School's large, open spaces are small, intimate learning environments.

Get specialized

The 2,200 students in this large high school won't feel lost in the crowd. The school houses six specialized career clusters, ranging from business management to environmental and agricultural services. These smaller learning environments allow staff members to give kids more attention. The community is welcome to visit the library or stroll the public walk and biking paths. Space is set aside for future community partnerships, such as a senior citizens' center.

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