Building Blueprints (Facilities in Focus)

Tech-Friendly Learning Hub

Tech Friendly Interiors

IMAGE COURTESY OF HUNTSVILLE CITY SCHOOLS

School libraries and airports have something in common. They’re being renovated to function more flexibly in the modern era. They’re becoming more than just thoroughfares.

In the past, school libraries and airports were often drab, monochromatic spaces filled with tightly packed, uncomfortable furniture. Individual space was scarce, and electrical power outlets were few and far between. Today, comfortable and spacious furnishings combined with 24/7 access to the Internet and plenty of recharging stations are transforming these spaces.

School districts across the country are renovating their outdated libraries to create welcoming places where students and teachers are free to explore, create, and collaborate. The road to renovation isn’t always easy though. Huntsville City Schools in Huntsville, Alabama, ran into a bump along the way.

Tech Friendly Interiors

IMAGE COURTESY OF HUNTSVILLE CITY SCHOOLS

In the spring of 2011, the district was preparing to open a new high school, but there was a concern. The library was traditional and unwelcoming, and it didn’t quite fit into the new state-of-the-art building. Tall, dark book stacks lined the walls and inflexible tables and chairs occupied floor space. Surprised by the outdated nature of the library, the new superintendent and administration conducted a study to determine how many students were using the space before, during, and after school. The survey showed the library was vastly underutilized.

During the summer of 2013, the district transformed the space into a Media Center and Internet Café. Renovations were fairly simple and straightforward, but they made a tremendous difference. Square tables and hard, wooden chairs were replaced with colorful, flexible furnishings and soft seating. Group meeting areas with display screens were added. Book stacks were replaced with accessible, perimeter shelving, and the lighting system was adjusted so it can be dimmed for video presentations. Lastly, the “No food or drink” sign was removed and single-serve coffee makers were installed.

Tech Friendly Interiors

IMAGE COURTESY OF HUNTSVILLE CITY SCHOOLS

The Media Center and Internet Café quickly became the heart of the high school and a tech-friendly learning hub. It’s a welcoming, engaging, and comfortable place where students gather to study and socialize. The new space accommodates multiple learning activities, and it facilitates individual and group study. Students and teachers have 24/7 access to the Internet and plenty of outlets to recharge their laptops.

Laptops are plentiful in the Huntsville City School District. In the fall of 2013, the district shifted to an all-digital learning environment. Each student in grades 3-12 receives a Windows laptop, and students in PreK-2 receive iPads. A wireless network provides reliable and equitable access to digital materials and resources.

Tech Friendly Interiors 

IMAGE COURTESY OF HUNTSVILLE CITY SCHOOLS

After renovating a traditional library into a modern media space, the district improved upon the design. This newer space is adjacent to the cafeteria. Modular flooring enables students to bring food into the area. If the floor gets dirty, carpet squares or vinyl squares can be replaced easily.

The digital-learning shift positively impacted students’ achievement. They’ve made proficiency gains on state and national assessments, and more students are graduating. By 2015, the graduation rate was 88 percent, up 33 percent from 2011. The Huntsville City School District was so successful in transforming a traditional school library into a versatile, modern and comfortable media space that administrators replicated the design in other schools. They also improved upon it. The newer media spaces are adjacent to cafeterias in each school to generate more foot traffic (and use).

The new spaces have modular flooring too, which enables students to bring in food. If the floor gets dirty, parts can be replaced easily. Modern flooring products that look like wood, stone, or vinyl are more aesthetically pleasing than traditional flooring, and they have better acoustics.

The Huntsville City School District has proven that renovated school libraries can become more comfortable, user-friendly and accessible places. Like renovated airports, school libraries have become so much more than thoroughfares.

This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Scott Leopold is a partner at Cooperative Strategies, previously DeJONG-RICHTER. On Jan. 1, 2017, DeJONG-RICHTER and Cooperative Strategies merged to provide expanded services to school districts nationwide. Since 2005, Scott has provided school districts with the technology tools they need for successful planning. He is available at sleopold@coopstrategies.com.

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