High Achiever

June 3, 2003
A school modernization uncovers hidden potential
WINNER: Lisle Senior High School, Lisle, IL“Our approach to our school projects is that, in a renovation, we believe strongly that a school needs to be more than just adding on the parts that the owners need. The original building needs to be made better,” says Mark Jolicoeur, principal, Perkins & Will, Chicago. Built in the early 1970s, the Lisle Senior High School, Lisle, IL, has served its community; yet from its very beginning, the building’s potential was never fully realized.The school was a state of Illinois capital development board project and funds were tight. Cost-saving methods and concerns regarding energy efficiency used to construct the building detracted from any aesthetic values in the original facility. “It was built on a shoestring; there were not sufficient funds for a complete building,” says Dr. J. Peter Lueck, superintendent, Lisle Community Unit District 202, Lisle, IL. In addition to lacking an auditorium, Lisle High School had limited physical education facilities, limited band and choral facilities, a cramped library, and an incomplete kitchen. Serving approximately 620 students, the facility was first built to handle three grades: sophomore, junior, and senior. Currently, the Lisle school accommodates four grades. Technology and changing curriculum needs have evolved and the school needed an updated technology center. The facility is on a constrained site with very little area available for expansion. For the last 30 years, the district was obliged to bus students over to local junior high schools or grade schools for some sporting and artistic events. Due to concerns with the energy crisis during the 1970s, the building was also constructed with very few windows. A replacement high school was not an economically feasible option, so school planners opted for an addition to the structurally sound, well-maintained facility.Needs ImprovementTo address the school district’s particular needs, the building team approached the project with a two-pronged approach, focused on creating a comprehensive high school and upgrading the aging infrastructure. Adds Lueck, “The need became more apparent with time.”The school district and design team reached out to the students, faculty, and the surrounding community to meet their needs. In 1999, the school district completed a survey of the community.Along with a need for additional space for academic and extra-curricular activities, there was a desperate outcry for windows. “The most poignant plea came from the students themselves,” says Lueck. Students had even painted scenery to decorate one windowless classroom to depict the views they wished they had. The students and faculty were the driving force behind modernizing the building. “The most challenging was how to give the school district as much as possible within the budget – as much architectural interest, as much program space, as much improvement to the existing space,” says Jerry Johnson, design principal, Perkins & Will, Chicago. Lisle’s classrooms are roughly 700 square feet in size, smaller than the traditional size of 800 square feet. The dearth of natural light created a drab atmosphere.“The district said to us: ‘Beyond the functional, this school has a very poor image. The students do not feel very proud of it,’” recalls Jolicoeur. For events, other districts could not come to the facility because it was incomplete. The entire team worked hard to create a design that would engender pride in the school. One of the project’s most refreshing features is the 19-acre site overlooking beautiful park land. The original exterior metal walls were removed and an aluminum glass metal panel system was installed that would tie together the additions to the existing structure. “When you think about what an impact our environment has on us, all it took was daylight to transform the feel in those areas,” says Jolicoeur. Careful consideration was given to prevent glare and solar gain. The modernization opened up the entire building, and through strategic placement of energy-efficient fenestration and shading devices, daylight can reach deep into the facility’s core. Now 70 percent of the classrooms have access to natural light. The existing rooftop units were replaced with multi-zone and single-zone rooftop units that provide heating and cooling for the entire facility. Total energy recovery systems, as well as automatic sprinkler systems, were also incorporated. Much of the original furniture and lighting was retained during the modernization process to save costs. Flooding the facility with sunlight was the most dramatic aspect of the total transformation of the space and the end-users’ perceptions.“We released the classrooms from the bondage of fluorescent light and forever more they are free to experience the healthy effects of daylighting,” says Jolicoeur. Faculty and students have reported a positive upswing in mood and more alertness. Adds Lueck, “Much of the work was done over the summer, so when they came back this August, the students were in awe, walking in a daze.” Pride in the facility has increased tenfold. Students and faculty members were so eager to show-off the “new” Lisle High School they hosted a district conference choral festival before the building was fully completed.Bright, Hard Working, Works Well with OthersIn addition to the dramatic makeover caused by the fresh abundance of natural light, the facility’s addition allows the school to host its athletic and performing arts events with ease. Pre-renovation due to a lack of space, theatrical productions, for example, had to be held off-site and athletic teams had to practice at inconvenient times – often late at night or early in the morning –  to accommodate scheduling needs. The new performing arts theater was especially designed to respond to the need to host a multitude of after-school functions. The easily identifiable front entrance allows the academic side of the building to be isolated from the performing and athletic events. A secondary entrance accommodates extracurricular activities.Security was also addressed, as there is interest in using the facility for park district events and local theater productions. The newly redesigned main front entrance features a locked vestibule. When students are entering at the beginning of the school day, vestibule doors are open. At other times, visitors must enter the administrative office to access the facility. Adds Johnson, “We spent a long time looking at how we can plan the building efficiently so that it gave them the most for the dollar.”Lacking a complete kitchen previously at the Lisle school, the students’ lunch options were limited. “In addition to vending machines, much of the entrees were prepared off-site and food was brought in on trucks. You lose something in the transition,” explains Lueck. Say goodbye automat! Food vending machines have been replaced with a bountiful salad bar, an expanded menu, serving areas, and cooked-to-order items. The Lisle High School kitchen can also serve its original function to be a district kitchen that provides food for other schools. The school’s colors of blue and white were incorporated in the design subtly, adding richness and reinforcing school spirit. Touches of blue are painted on accent walls and the redesigned cafeteria features blue walls and a mélange of different shades of blue tile.Once cramped and dark, the library has undergone a tremendous change. From an original space with few small windows, the upgraded library/media center sports a two-story, sunlight-drenched glass wall. “We focused on the media center that incorporated a place for a distance learning lab where the [school] could set up a computer screen and project classes from distant universities,” explains Johnson. The modernized high school features technology improvements throughout, with data, telephone, and video jacks. Conducive to modern technology and learning, the library/media center has morphed from an under-used facility to a high-tech hub where students want to hang out.Head of the ClassThis is the first significant modernization project Superintendent Lueck has headed in the Lisle school district. At his previous position for a large school district in northern Illinois, Lueck was involved in many modernization projects to meet that district’s rapidly expanding student population. With additional funding, Lueck hopes to upgrade other facilities in his districts and make more students proud of their schools. “We are proud the building has been well received, and I am proud of the strong relationship we have with our architects and construction managers,” says Lueck. The facility’s exterior is currently a seamless combination of sleek glass and traditional masonry. The 55,000-square-foot addition is expertly scaled in proportion to the original structure. The renovated 24,000-square-foot portion of the school includes a new cafeteria, science labs, administrative offices, art classrooms, and the library/media center. With its sweeping glass arc entrance, the external changes to the high school are easy to see. However, it is the changes inside the school (most notably the renewed pride) that are the most dramatic of all. Lisle Senior High School isn’t so much a modernization, but a final realization of what the building should be.Regina Raiford Babcock ([email protected]) is senior editor at Buildings magazine.

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