The Park Hill School District’s LEAD Innovation Studio is anything but a traditional high school, pushing the boundaries of teaching and learning while building collaborative learning communities. Born out of a master plan identifying the need for additional high school space, without the cost and footprint of an entire high school, the brand-new program immerses students in a self-driven, project-based learning program with the support of mentors in a flexible, professional environment. Arriving at the building through the hillside of trees, the immediate perception is not one of a school, but rather a professional building meant to focus on autonomy and give students a hold of their own learning experience (a main district goal) while preparing them to positively impact an ever-evolving world.
Inside, the building redefines the standards of traditional learning, as it does not function like a traditional high school – no art room, media center, teacher-owned classrooms, etc. Rather, the building boasts flexible labs and learning spaces, open corridors for display, breakout spaces, multi-purpose commons, outdoor study areas, presentation spaces and more. The integration of digital, analog and flexible spaces at various sizes enables students to design their learning experience within the parameters of mentorship and provides resources for every student. Operable walls, flexible furniture and more allow students a sense of choice in learning.
The hyper-efficient building, certified LEED Silver, sits on a tight footprint (75% less than a typical high school) to minimize site disturbance and maximize the connection to nature. Every square foot of the building is a learning space and through purposeful design, each space offers views to the outdoors integrating interior and exterior spaces and providing daylighting. Patios and balconies also serve as outdoor classrooms and study spaces. Learning is on display throughout the building and the materials used were chosen for multi-purpose capabilities.
LEAD served as a “testing ground” for learning in the rest of the district. Following the success of the intentional flexibility and collaboration spaces, the district is now repurposing commons and media centers in its other buildings to follow suit. The mastery-based learning approach has impacted the overarching instructional vision of the district, and the emphasis on learning communities has impacted students. Students choose to attend LEAD and have noticed a lack of cliques and social hierarchy.
Special Challenges + Solutions
One challenge faced was the fact that the building was being designed at the same time as the program and curriculum. Our team increased engagement and collaboration to iterate and build spaces maximizing flexibility to fit varying needs. The outcome of flexible learning labs and breakout spaces rather than traditional classrooms has complemented the curriculum and allowed the program the opportunity to continue evolving to best fit student needs.
The site and budget posed additional challenges, designing an atypical high school on an atypical site. Focusing on the feel of the building, we pivoted our exercises, presentations, zoning, massing and more to act on the community’s sensitivity to the location. We commissioned teams to conduct archaeological studies, a wetlands study, a cultural analysis review and more to maintain the integrity of the natural site and work with the community. The building fits into a tight footprint to minimize disturbance and build a connection to the outdoors.
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