Interactive Design at Alpine High School
A bond election was approved by Alpine ISD and the community of Alpine in November 2018 to move forward with plans to improve the high school. The school was built in the 1970s in an open-concept design with expandable curtain walls. In the 1980s, true walls were added but minimal upgrades and improvements were made since then. A charette organized at the high school in early February was an opportunity for Alpine community members, high school faculty/staff and students to brainstorm on the site layout of the school.
“It’s really beneficial to the entire group and the entire committee because you get to actually see on paper what we’ve been visualizing,” said Becky McCutchen, superintendent of Alpine ISD. “I think that’s really important because when you start looking at where the building is going to go, how many classrooms it’s going to have, and what it’s going to look like, there’s a lot of things that need to be considered that we possibly didn’t think about.”
For insight on site layout, ideas on exterior/interior materials and to compare sizes of various school spaces, 8 tours of different schools across West Texas were scheduled for the students, faculty/staff and community members to attend. After the tours, those involved voted on features they favored for the design of Alpine HS.
“We were able to go into these buildings and look at things that we don’t normally look at when we go to a school,” Becky said. “We go to schools for UIL events, or we go to their gyms for basketball or volleyball games. We go to their tracks. We go to their football fields – those types of things. We don’t stop and look at their exterior materials, their interior materials, what their floor is made out of, how big their classrooms are, what type of doors they have, what types of security entrances.”
Scott Reed, project architect, said the project involved incorporating new elements, such as science labs and an addition to the band hall, as well as keeping some of the existing elements, including the kitchen and gymnasium.
Space program blocks were 3D printed in distinctive colors to represent the buildings of the school. Scott said moving these blocks around allowed the stakeholders to think about and work through the layout of the buildings but also traffic patterns and parking for buses, parents, students and school activities. Noise from band practice and shop classes were also considered.
“These program space blocks we use to allow the participants to be interactive in our site layout,” Scott said. “Our goal is to generate a number of options that can be considered by the group, by the school board, and then flesh out quickly the best option for site layout. Once we do that we’ll be able to move on to interior sketching and layout.”
One unique aspect of this charette was including students and community members. Chuck Wilson, Alpine HS Band Director, said having these stakeholders involved gave the process innovative insight into functions and layouts of the buildings. He said the charette also allowed everyone to see the thinking processes of different layouts.
“There are certain things as educators we’re wired to think about just in education,” he said. “Our community members had some inputs on the function of the buildings and the exterior, how it should look, and things that weren’t high on my list. As teachers, we’re thinking about how is this best going to serve the students education.
“Then the students became involved, and they came up with some really cool ideas of placements of different areas and why. Some of the security concerns that they had brought out, I didn’t realize they were that concerned that deeply about some of these things, and it’s just been cool. I would strongly encourage any future projects to involve students – strongly, strongly.”
Riley Spencer, Alpine HS senior, said that Scott was very inclusive of both the adults and students and encouraged the students to contribute their opinions when the adults were “in the spotlight.”
“I think it’s very important because I know some of the things I’ve had to deal with here,” he said. “Even though I won’t be able to be in the new school, I feel like I can contribute still and try to at least prevent the problems that I’ve had to deal with. The adults know a lot, and they can contribute a lot, but it seems like they also don’t think about some of the things that the students do. There’ve been several instances that a student has brought something up that they were like, ‘Oh yeah, we never really thought of it that way.’”
Panchi Scown, principal at Alpine HS, said she appreciates the same students being involved from when the bond was passed to the site visits and now with the charette and design processes for the spaces that will give them more opportunities to learn collaboratively such as the science labs, a robotics lab, and a career and technology education (CTE) building.
“I think that we’re going to be able to put spaces together that are going to benefit the kids’ learning to actually improve what they’re doing,” she said. “Our school has been awesome with what we have, but to actually have a space to put things away or have a space to have a collaborative discussion that’s not in the middle of the hallway – I think it’s just going to be wonderful for the students. I’m really excited about it.”
The new school will have new science labs, administration spaces, special education spaces and collaborative learning spaces. Improvements to the performing arts spaces for the band and drama programs are also a part of the project. The charette process generated 5 possible layout options for Alpine HS.
“This is going to give the students of Alpine an opportunity to be educated in environments that are more conducive to today’s learning styles,” Panchi said. “We’re going to be able to create collaborative learning spaces, large bright inviting spaces. Those are things our students haven’t had in the past.”