SHARING PRIVATE SPACES
- By Michael Fickes
- July 1st, 2005
At Hartland High School in Hartland, Mich., everyone can use the swimming pool. In fact, the local community probably supplies 80 percent of the people using the facility, according to Brendon Pollard, AIA and project manager for Kingscott Associates, Inc., the Kalamazoo firm that designed the pool and its three associated locker rooms.
Actually, Hartland High School has two pools, a competition pool and an activity pool. The activity pool is the one that attracts community members. It has a 40-ft. slide, water jets, sprays and fountains. For those who prefer exercise to fun, there is a water aerobics area and a current channel that provides water resistance for aerobic walkers.
Shared school-community facilities like the Hartland pool have become standard at school districts across the country.In the last 10 years, every high school that we’ve designed has been flexible enough to accommodate community users, says Sara Haselschwardt, AIA, a senior design architect with Kingscott.
Shared facilities raise design challenges, especially when it comes to the locker rooms and restrooms connected to spaces shared by students and the community.
To get to the pool at Hartland High, for example, a swimmer must pass through one of three different locker room areas. Athletic locker rooms serve the needs of students, who may be going to the pool or to one of the school’s other athletic facilities. Individual members of the community use a community locker room, which is partitioned for men and women. Another community locker room, for families, features individual changing areas and accommodates the privacy needs of mom, dad and the kids. Lockers for their belongings are positioned outside of the changing rooms.
According to Haselschwardt, the athletic team locker rooms feature traditional tile flooring and metal lockers. The community locker rooms, while smaller, have amenities students can only dream about. The lockers are more upscale. Rather than porcelain, wall-mounted sinks, the community spaces have counter tops with recessed sinks and large mirrors.The goal was to design the community spaces more like a health club, says Haselschwardt.
All the locker rooms offer individual shower rooms with curtains instead of the gang showers prevalent years ago. No one wants to use a gang shower today, adds Haselschwardt. So we usually use a compartment design.
Safety and Security
Hartland’s network of locker rooms also comes with separate entrances for students and community members. Students enter from a corridor on the academic side of the building, while members of the community must check in at a booth fronting their locker rooms and pass through a corridor walled off from the rest of the school. We don’t want students and community members mingling during the school hours, given today’s issues of security and school violence, says Pollard. Separate entrances reassure parents that their kids aren’t going to run into someone inappropriate at school.
Making a Controlled Entrance
Controlled, but not necessarily separate, entrances are important to other shared spaces in schools. Kingscott designs shared gyms, auditoriums, media centers, classrooms and cafeterias paying careful attention to access issues.
We’ll often design community access to the gym on an upper level, Haselschwardt says. We might put an indoor running track on this upper level for community use during the evening and student use during the day. Visitors will enter the gym at the upper level. If they are going to a game, they can walk down the bleachers. That helps to save the wood floor in the gym, which is a sticking point for coaches.
While it often isn’t practical to build separate entrances, shared facilities are located within easily recognizable public areas of a school. Auditoriums, cafeterias, media centers and shared classrooms can be placed just inside a main entrance. Interior design helps to segregate public spaces from academic areas.
In a school we’re designing now, we have set two classrooms just off the main corridor, Pollard says. One is a computer lab and the other a health classroom. By separating these classrooms from the rest of the academic space, they can be opened at night for use by community groups attending meetings or adult education classes.
These rooms are a little larger than the regular classrooms, continues Pollard. The shared classrooms will also have tile floors, compared to carpeted regular classrooms. Pollard calls this a layered design that distinguishes academic space from community space. You might have a main lobby space with the gym and auditorium entrances just off the lobby, he says. Then a short distance down the corridor, there might be a set of doors or some other architectural feature such as lower ceilings that separates the community space from the academic space.
In shared facilities, whether locker rooms or common areas of a school, restroom design differs from restrooms built strictly for students. We will locate these kinds of support facilities adjacent to the different spaces so they are easy to find, Haselschwardt says.
Public restroom design in schools has moved upscale. In the public areas of a school, you aim to show off what you’re proud of and that extends to the restrooms, adds Pollard. These restrooms aren’t as utilitarian as those in the academic areas. Sometimes, we’ll use wall tile, for example. If the budget won’t allow tile, we’ll paint the walls.
Auditorium restrooms are especially important. If you’re getting dressed up to go to the theater and the school auditorium design promotes the idea that this is a special evening, you don’t want to ruin that with under-designed restroom facilities.
Plumbing tends to be consistent in student and community restrooms. According to Pollard, school administrators may or may not specify water-conserving toilets. Either way, the same equipment will go into restrooms designed for students and the community. By and large, all restrooms today use automatic flush valves and faucet controls. These fixtures help keep restrooms cleaner and they are more difficult to vandalize, says Pollard.
On the question of paper towels or hot air hand dryers, Haselschwardt notes that there are two schools of thought. Some want paper towel dispensers because kids vandalize hot air dryers, she says. Others prefer paperless restrooms and believe dryers keep restrooms neater.
Some schools are schizophrenic about the question, adds Pollard. They may use paper towels in academic restrooms so kids can get in and out faster, while the community restrooms might have hand dryers, believing it creates a better public image.
Toilet stalls raise no such issues. Haselschwardt says that the most vandal resistant materials also happen to be the most attractive. Everyone wants solid plastic or stainless steel toilet partitions, she says.
Even so, Kingscott often includes finishes and fixtures in bidding documents. The basic bid will call for manual-flush toilets and painted metal partitions. Additional lines will ask for automatic flush valves and scratch-resistant plastic partitions. Once the overall prices for the project have been established, the restrooms will get upgrades if money is available.
School Finance Issues Promote Sharing
As always, school finance issues drive school design. Today, these issues are driving schools toward more shared facilities. If you can’t rent a space out, you might as well not have it in the building, says Pollard. Schools are strapped for cash and looking for ways to support academic functions. On the one hand, you have to be careful not to create grandiose designs. On the other hand, the design has to fit the goals for the space. For example, many schools would like to rent out the cafeteria space for banquets or other community activities. That argues against a big open space and suggests booth seating, balconies and perhaps other design elements that provide something of a signature for the community.
Shared facility designs can work for and against bond issue approval. Shared facilities will help gain approvals in communities with clubs, senior groups and preschool groups that will benefit, says Haselschwardt. Then again, they may hinder approval when a community’s main concerns involve security: will my kids be safe when outsiders share the building. Attitudes toward this vary from community to community.
Nevertheless, more and more districts are learning to share school facilities in some fashion or another with the communities that provide their essential financial support.