Mother Nature goes to high school
Vail, CO Colorado
EDWARDS ” The skiers, bikers, kayakers and hikers that we call locals have had a hand in designing the new Battle Mountain High School.
And when it’s all built, you should be able to tell the school was raised by a mountain town.
When H + L Architects made its pitch to the school district, it wasn’t through a stack of conceptual drawings ” those hadn’t been started yet. Instead, designers called together a group of teachers, students, administrators and parents and asked, “What do you want in a school?”
The community pointed to the trees, peaks and rivers that surround our homes, the reason so many families work and live here. And somehow, that’s what the new school will look like.
“We want it to feel like it’s in Edwards, Colorado,” said Brianna Johnson, a freshman who participated in the design process.
How do you make a high school fit in the mountains? A new high school that H + L built in the old mining town of Erie, Colo., for instance, was designed with coal black bricks and an entry tower reminiscent of a mine elevator.
A new high school in Brighton, Colo., nestled near a major airport, was designed with slick materials, steel panels and looks like it might fly off the ground.
Battle Mountain, therefore, will be reflective of the valley. “The school is rooted in the natural landscape,” architect Chad Novak said.
While designs aren’t final, the school will likely be shaped with the Eagle River in mind ” that means a curved, flowing series of buildings instead of a giant cement box. The school will also be built to fit the hillside instead of leveling it all out.
There will actually be a 30 foot drop as the school cascades down the hill, giving the building the look and feel of actually being a part of the landscape.
The school will also be built with a lot of wood and stone, making it look like it rose up from the mountains like so many of the rustic lodges that line the valley.
A major theme in the new Battle Mountain will be bringing the outdoors inside. The school have plenty of windows and be 98 percent naturally day-lit, Novak said.
“We’re using mother nature at her finest instead of turning on artificial lights,” Novak said.
There will be a few outside plaza areas built into the school ” places where students can gather, hold class and work on projects. It would also be a way to showcase the valley’s distinct seasons ” the snowy winters, green springs and colorful falls that are celebrated here.
“You can see the outdoors anytime, anywhere in the building,” Novak said. “We’re allowing nature to come visually into the building.”
Principal Brian Hester said he is excited about the most basic components of the school ” classrooms.
Basically, there will be a lot more of them, and teachers won’t have to travel from class to class in carts anymore, he said. The new school should be able to accommodate up to 1,200 students.
The school will be broken up into three major areas, and this will give Hester flexibility to run the school in new ways. Maybe he could go with a school-within-a-school set up, have a freshmen wing, develop academy areas and group core subjects like math and science.
Hallways will be wider, giving students more room and making it easier to travel from class to class. And there will be areas for students to gather between classes and after school. Novak said he’s planning a student commons near the front of the building with a food-court atmosphere.
The Athletics and Fine Arts departments will be at opposite ends, making it easier for events to go on simultaneously and not interfere with each other. There should be two gyms and even a climbing wall, Hester said.
The new school will also accommodate the district’s interest in increasing technology use in classrooms. Hester expects a couple new computer labs, which will allow more teachers to get students working with technology each day.
Hopefully, this new building will make students feel welcome ” like they belong there. “You’re trying to build a connection to the school,” Hester said.
Students didn’t want the school looking like a ranch ” which, considering local history, was certainly an option on the table.
“They didn’t want the feel of ‘Let’s go out and farm on the tractor,'” Johnson said.
Johnson, who just finished her freshman year, will be a senior when the school is complete. She polled students, gave presentations to her class and even took surveyed middle school students.
Some kids asked for a swimming pool. Some wanted a disco theme. Most were a little more serious, asking for more room, lots of windows and a central meeting place where students can meet between classes and after school.
Not all ideas will be accommodated, but Johnson said she truly felt like the architects and everyone else in the design group cared about what students had to say. Now, she’s excited she’ll be among the first seniors to graduate from the school.
Staff writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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