Today's high school construction more customized than text book

Published: Sunday, Jan. 22 2012 4:00 p.m. MST

Jack Wixom, left, and Mayor Mike Winder greet each other before touring the construction of the new Granger High School in West Valley City on Monday, Jan. 9, 2012.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

WEST VALLEY CITY — High school buildings these days just aren't what they used to be — and that's an intentional change by districts to benefit students, taxpayers and the environment.

Along the Wasatch Front, schools currently under construction all employ new techniques and technologies that make this generation of facilities very different from the buildings they're replacing.

"The focus of education has become a lot more individualized over the past decade, and our facilities reflect that," said Ben Horsley, spokesman for the Granite School District. "We don't have that factory model mentality anymore."


A 50-acre lot in West Valley is currently home to two high schools, one of which is the storied Granger High. The other is its replacement, which is currently under construction.

Nine miles to the east, a similar scene is unfolding as work on the new Olympus High is under way while class remains in session in the old building. The two older buildings were basically carbon copies of each other when they were first built in the 1950s, but the new structures taking their places will be unique to fit the needs of two different communities.

"A lot of people wonder why we don't have some standard plan," Horsley said. "It's really hard to duplicate a plan at any given site. ... Our students are different, our communities are different and they need different things for their communities."  

The district held several meetings and took feedback from community members to see what mattered to them. Granger, for instance, will keep its wood shop, but the new Olympus won't, because that's what the respective communities wanted. Both new Granite high schools will have rebuilt swimming pools on site because the facilitates meet needs well beyond the schools' respective swim teams.

"I think (high schools) always have been community centers, but what the community likes to see in those types of centers has changed."

In Davis County, the same is true, said Bryan Turner, director of architectural services for Davis School District. The welding program at Clearfield High has become a hallmark of the community. But other schools, like Syracuse High, don't offer the program.

Even so, students who have an interest in a particular field, but whose schools don't offer the program, can now attend a centralized career and technical center or a nearby technical college and receive credit.

Learning Environment

Nothing detracts from student learning more than discipline problems, and architects have found that the very layout of a building can have a big impact on preventing cliques from becoming a problem.

Long narrow hallways used to breed turf wars, said Turner said, as groups would withdraw to specific wings or hallways.

"That's where you get some of the fights," he said.

New high schools all include large common spaces where students can congregate before school and during lunch. While they still hang out in groups, they're more easily observed by administration. Davis' oldest high school building, Bountiful High, will likely be renovated this summer and a new commons area added.

"It really helps the administration with fights and crowd control," Turner said.

Building layout influences staff collaboration and student learning as well, Horsley said, and Granite's two high schools that are being rebuilt reflect that. Subjects that complement each other are housed in the same wing, as are teachers who benefit from collaborating on lesson plans.

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