According to a recent preview, the new Lansing High School will have a lot of new features for students and teachers.
Windmills as both limited energy generators and learning tools on the grounds, a 5-kilometer trail and outdoor classroom elements will sit alongside the more traditional classroom elements in three levels. LHS Principal Steve Dike said it’s a unique opportunity, even for longtime educational administrators like him.
“The thing that is so encouraging about what you can create when you start from scratch,” he said, “is that you can start planning for 21st Century needs instead of being bound by where you’re at.”
That planning began with a list of the required and desired spaces for the new school and some brainstorming on how best to leverage each square foot, according to Hollis and Miller architect Meg Warner.
“How does Lansing want to use those spaces and are there any spaces that we can overlap and maybe gain square footage back and use as a classroom space or for other fun features?” she said.
Those sessions produced a set of five criteria that the planning committee and architects are using to plan for 21st Century needs and capabilities at the new school. Of the suggestions, Warner said, were things like “learning stairs,” which would double as a gathering place for students and a proposal that would eliminate a long-held feature in high schools ― lockers.
“This conversation has had a lot of ups and downs,” Warner said, referring to the discussion of lockers.
She said the idea of eliminating lockers might raise a few eyebrows. But Warner added the Lansing School District would not be the first to try it. The temporary location of Joplin High School does not have lockers for its students and there is talk that the administration will not build them into the new high school when it opens.
School Superintendent Randy Bagby said nixing lockers makes sense from a cost standpoint. Early estimates are that the new school will cost about $175 per square foot to construct. And accommodating the number of lockers needed in the new school would take up about 4,000 square feet ― or about $700,000 worth of space.
“There’s a lot of learning spaces that we can create if we don’t do lockers,” Bagby said.
Warner said keeping them out of the design also helps fulfill one of those five guiding design principles ― one-to-one technology, meaning that the facility would be equipped to allow not only teachers to instruct at the front of the class with a mobile or other device, but that there would be ample wireless internet connectivity and charging stations for students as well. More of those capabilities chips away at the need for lockers in the first place, she said.
Page 2 of 3 - “If we’re going where we have mobile devices, we’re probably not as likely to be checking out textbooks to every student,” Warner said. “They then become classroom textbooks. So I don’t have my textbook and I don’t go to my locker, then what do I put in my locker?”
Warner said even among committee members, questions like that prompted one of the most common concerns ― where would students put their coats?
“That’s the million-dollar question,” she said.
In a recent conference call with the Joplin High School Principal, Bagby said that school allowed students to take their coats with them from class to class and also had considered both a small bank of rentable lockers and installing a few hooks in each classroom. But Joplin officials also told Bagby that typical teenage behavior often wins out.
“Kids aren't wearing coats,” he said.
In lieu of lockers, the new school would feature hallway learning spaces to accommodate group activities and, if needed, makeup work for absent students. They could also serve as a stand in as a sort of “water cooler” for social gatherings.
Dike said that any major changes to the layout of the school would likely be phased in to smooth the transition. In all of the early planning, he also said it is important to remember that the ideas proposed in the preliminary designs are just that ― preliminary. However, Bagby said the district has in some cases one opportunity with the new building to try out some new techniques.
“If you build them in now, you’ll have them forever, because that space becomes a lot less usable,” he said of lockers.
It's part and parcel with the challenges of designing a next-generation school facility from the ground up ― a building that Dike said aims not only be able to suit the district's needs now, but well into the future. Changing one long-held educational feature or function could change another. It's something he said the planning committee is keeping in mind during its nearly daily meetings.
“None of these pieces can be looked at in isolation, you have to look at how all of the pieces fit together,” he said.
By working together with teachers and administrators and using its vision statements as guiding principles, Dike said he hopes that the district's design for the new $45 million high school building can both utilize all of the available learning space and accommodate changing trends in education, at least until the district needs to build another facility.
“We need to make sure that we’re preparing the kids for their future and not our past,” he said.
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