Until 2008, a Tennessee community known for rigorous academic achievement had little to brag about in terms of academic facilities. A worn out high school building, outdated classrooms and inadequate athletic facilities contradicted the standard of excellence exuded by Oak Ridge residents.
But now, after five years of planning, design and construction, Superintendent Dr. Thomas Bailey grins from ear to ear as he welcomes students and visitors to the new jewel of Oak Ridge, the recently renovated Oak Ridge High School.
The facility defines outdoor space necessary to aid in the creation of a sense of larger place and focuses the circulation spine of the facility to continually reinforce the connection to the exterior support social interaction. Multiple collaborative learning spaces of varying size and intimacy are provided at joints formed between defined program and administrative and faculty office areas.
Goals and Vision
The dramatic transformation of Oak Ridge High School has created a community icon that reinforces the research-centered area’s emphasis on culture and learning. The 1950s era school needed significant improvements to continue providing students with educational opportunities commensurate with its tradition of excellence. The vision for the transforming the school was developed through a series of interactive community charettes. Overall goals for the project were to create an inspiring, state-of-the-art learning environment that supports the school’s educational vision, fosters strong community connections, increase the school’s visibility, and promotes sustainability with pursuit of LEED Silver certification.
Heery International completed a thorough study of each building at Oak Ridge High School and found that while much of the high school was structurally sound, two buildings and a portion of a third needed to be replaced.
The planning process began with dozens of community meetings among teachers, students and members of the public, all offering design ideas for a facility that could accommodate both students and the public.
Once the decision was made to proceed with renovations, the district hosted a design competition, drawing architects from around the country. DLR Group, a national design firm with an extensive K-12 education portfolio, teamed with local firm ACHW, and ultimately won the competition.
The public meetings didn’t stop when the architects and engineers were hired. DLR Group and ACHW conducted charettes with all interested parties. These interactive sessions allowed the firms to gather additional design input from administration, school board, teachers, citizens, business community and students.
“From the start, we knew this project was special,” said Jim French, Senior Principal and Designer with DLR Group. “We realized immediately the importance academics played in the community. As designers, our job was to refurbish the building into an academic trophy for Oak Ridge.”
Special Challenges and Solutions
This project includes an addition that nearly doubles the size of the high school on the existing site and renovates the entire facility. Phasing and staging were keys to completing the project since the school remained in operation. The project had 15 separate completion dates during the three-year construction period.
Funding the project was another challenge. Tennessee ranks 49th in state funding for schools, so the bond referendum that passed in Oak Ridge 2004 by a 3 to 1 ratio was unique.
“The Oak Ridge community passed the only bond referendum in 2004 in Tennessee. The only bond referendum,” said Dr. Thomas Bailey, Superintendent. “That speaks volumes for the support these folks have of our schools and the future of our community.”
But the community wanted more than a typical high school. “We told the designers we didn’t want just a box,” said Dr. Bailey. So residents and businesses contributed an additional $8 million to bridge the gap in funding of the largest school renovation in Tennessee history. Supporters also donated to fund specific areas of the school. For example, an orchestra pit was not in the original plans or budget, but was made possible through a private donation.
Oak Ridge students regularly win state and national science competitions. And as home to Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the curriculum reflects the highest emphasis on science instruction. The new facility provides modern classrooms and laboratories, as well as state-of-the-art equipment to continue with Oak Ridge’s tradition of excellence.
Oak Ridge students participate in one of five Career Academies that focus on regional job opportunities. Career Academies feature internships during high school and proper training required by area organizations.
In conjunction with B&W Y-12, the Engineering & Manufacturing Academy trains students in advanced manufacturing techniques. Courses are designed for students who choose to go directly into a high-skill manufacturing career or who desire college credits toward an engineering degree. Students in the Health Sciences Academy collaborate with Methodist Medical Center for training in medical care specialties.
The Early Childhood Education Academy prepares students for childcare and education careers; Arts & Communications Academy explores a variety of cultural and broadcast career opportunities; and the Business and Information Technology Academy trains students to be entrepreneurs in tomorrow’s world.
A 50-foot glass atrium and new main entrance plaza invite visitors into the facility. Once inside, the two-story grand stair leads to the new gymnasium and a new 185-seat amphitheater. The amphitheater mimics a college lecture hall. It is used as a classroom, as well as for staff meetings and community presentations.
Organized around a state-of-the-art media center with a large clerestory, the learning center features a new three-story classroom wing with 37 general classrooms and 13 high-tech science labs adjacent to the relocated career academies. The existing two-story classroom wing was renovated and reorganized to better serve the curriculum. Small group collaboration areas located in the learning center enhance educational opportunities.
The new multi-level student dining commons gleams with natural light. The design of the commons roof was inspired by the curved wood beams that supported the roofs of the two sports practice buildings in the existing school. The commons doubles as a pre-function area for the renovated performing arts auditorium complete with an orchestra pit and state-of-the-art acoustic and lighting systems. A new light cove below the ceiling houses the new sound system speakers and stage spotlighting. All finishes provide a modern acoustical environment excellent for performances.
A door at the back of the auditorium leads to a new music wing, featuring rehearsal rooms for vocal, orchestra and marching/concert band, staff offices, storage and locker rooms.
The new 2,200-seat gymnasium now makes Oak Ridge eligible to host athletic playoff events. The new athletic lobby is the backdrop for the school’s Hall of Fame and includes memorabilia, sculptures and a photo mural honoring past champions.
“When the original facility was built in the 1950s, Oak Ridgers concluded that providing the highest quality education for their children was the most important contribution they could make to the long term prosperity of their community,” said Chuck Carringer, Oak Ridge High School Principal. “More than one-half century later, Oak Ridgers have renewed their commitment to education made nearly three generations ago by the men and women who founded our community.”
Sustainability was integral to the school design. One of the most important decisions district officials faced in the planning process was to renovate the existing facility or build a brand new school. The district opted to improve the existing 58.5 acre school site instead of developing a greenfield property. Most high schools of similar size with comparable site facilities can require up to 70 or 80 acres, so designers had to be creative to accomplish project goals. The team created a multi-story building that stacks educational spaces and resources for a smaller building footprint.
Resourceful use of existing materials diverted waste from the landfill by extending the life of 75 percent of the building’s walls, floors and roof. Care was also taken to select sustainable building products. Twenty percent of the building’s materials contain recycled content and more than 20 percent of the materials were harvested and manufactured in the region.
Engineers played a significant role in the energy savings at Oak Ridge High School. The hybrid geothermal mechanical system and water-source heat pump uses approximately 26 percent less energy than a comparable conventional chiller and gas-fired boiler system. These systems use the relatively stable earth temperature to heat or cool a building by circulating water through a continuous loop of buried pipes, and are a good choice for a school if the site and sub-soil conditions can accommodate the geothermal wells. At Oak Ridge, 200 geothermal wells were installed more than 300 feet below the ground to utilize the earth as a heat sink.
The site design incorporated native and adaptable vegetation which are low maintenance and require zero irrigation. Protecting native vegetation along the existing tributary provides habitat for aquatic life for study by students. Water usage for the facility is reduced by approximately 22 percent through the use of high performance and low flow fixtures.
Documentation has been submitted to the United States Green Building Council for LEED Silver Certification.
A primary design goal was to provide as much natural daylight and views as possible with extensive use of exterior glass. From the commons to the media center and classrooms, students and staff are connected to the outside with an abundance of natural light. Large sloped skylights bring daylight into the new media center, and more than 85 percent of core learning spaces benefit from natural daylighting.
The innovative lighting design incorporates two methods to save energy by reducing the lighting load in the school. First, occupancy sensors control the lighting in all classrooms so lighting is not powered if the room is not in use. In addition to these sensors, each classroom is furnished with the ability to select from three light levels in even one-third increments. The system allows occupants to choose the lowest light level required for their tasks and comfort level. For example, if the occupant is comfortable with two-thirds of the designed maximum light level, he can switch the lights accordingly and save one-third the normal energy required.
Second, approximately two-thirds of all corridor lighting automatically shuts off while classes are in session, and powers on only during class change periods. Corridor lighting, which is typically on up to 10 hours per day, is only on during periods of high corridor traffic, or about three hours per day.
This method is possible through the facility’s master clock, which is part of the intercom system and controls the school bell system. The master clock is interfaced with the relay panel system that controls the corridor lighting circuits, and sends signals to turn lighting on and off throughout the day.
The design team implemented an Indoor Air Quality Management Plan for construction and pre-occupancy to help sustain healthy air quality for building occupants and construction workers. Paints, sealants, adhesives and carpets meet VOC and Indoor Air Quality standards. Additional commissioning was performed to ensure the building is designed, constructed and calibrated as intended for appropriate thermal comfort and Indoor Air Quality. The facility has been designed to maintain interior comfort within the ranges established by ASHRAE Standard 55-1992, Addenda 1995.