Officials wondering whether plans for new junior high are ‘too far out’

South Junior High School’s unique design will lead to its eventual demise, but that hasn’t stopped architects from considering a distinctive replacement.

Among the ideas for a $26.5 million new school: glass, movable classroom doors and movable walls.

In many ways, plans for a new South Junior High to replace the school at 2734 La. counter the problems of the current building, said Tom Bracciano, the Lawrence school district’s director of operations and facility planning.

“On the other hand, is it too far out?” Bracciano wondered aloud.

That is what district officials must decide. Architects with Gould Evans Associates will present schematic designs to the district’s construction oversight committee today.

“We’re at the early stages of this,” said Steve Clark, a principal with Gould Evans. “By all means, this is a conceptual design.”

The current school was built in the 1960s. Its circular design, considered cutting-edge at the time, has confounded students and teachers alike. Some complain that it’s hard to monitor curved hallways that have poor visibility. It lacks natural light. And it’s hard to control the temperature. A student might wear a sweater in one classroom and then sweat in another.

This architectural rendering shows a new South Junior High School with movable classroom doors and walls. The school's cost will be 6.5 million.

The latest plans would bring natural light where there is little now. And architects have expanded upon the pod design, which clusters classrooms by grade level.

In the plans for SJHS, there would be eight classrooms for both the seventh- and eighth-grade pods.

Each classroom would be fronted by a wall-sized glass doorway, similar to those found on storefronts inside shopping malls.

That glass door could be opened so teachers could expand their classrooms, using a bit of the common area or hallway.

The door would be made of glass to allow natural light from hallway skylights to flow into the classrooms.

“The current South teachers feel like they live in a very oppressive, dark, closed-in space,” Clark said. “What we tried to do was turn that around and give them a kind of place that’s strikingly different from what they work in now.”

The planners also are considering movable walls between classrooms. That would allow space for traditional teaching, but also give teachers added flexibility to expand classroom space or collaborate with other teachers or classrooms, Clark said.

But district officials may be wary of anything too radical.

Bracciano says it’s a neat design.

“The question becomes: Is it maybe too radical?” he said. “You don’t want to do something that’s going to be an issue again.”

SJHS English teacher Kathleen Scollon said she trusted the teachers who aided in the design process.

“Anything that we would get – unless it’s round – is going to be a huge improvement on what we have,” she said.

Ron Garvin, a SJHS physical education teacher, has worked in the building more than 30 years. He said he had many fond memories from coaching games or overseeing classes in the school’s gymnasium. He said he was attached to the gymnasium, but he knows that it is time for a new school.

“All things must come to an end,” he said. “It’s served its purpose and we move on.”

He said he didn’t think the current design had left teachers so frustrated they couldn’t handle a dramatically different new building.

“I think they’re still open to ways to make the building as efficient as possible,” he said.