United Township High School Student Life Center honored for outstanding design by Illinois School Board Association
“United Township was very pleased with our OPN experience in the planning and implementation of our Student Life Addition. The planning included a great deal of inclusion of the United Township staff, where no detail was too small. The implementation was effective due to OPN’s continual involvement and relationship with the construction manager and all other related parties to ensure the finished product was one that has created a great deal of excitement and pride within our school community. Most importantly, our students have a state-of-the-art facility to strengthen their student experience.” – Jay Morrow, UTHS Superintendent
The 32,000-square-foot addition and renovation, completed for the 2019 school year, realizes the district’s desire to have a building that reflects the pride the community places in the school. A dramatic and transparent student commons addition creates a new façade, addresses security with a new vestibule and entry, updates the cafeteria, relocates and reimagines the media center, and consolidates administration and student services.
The project will be on display as part of the Exhibition of Educational Environments, an annual competition for outstanding school design projects, held in conjunction with the conference. The juried awards program recognizes school designs for instructional, recreational, administrative, or other use.
Facing one of the city’s main byways, the new Student Life Center is both a literal and figurative lantern. Lit from within at night, a curtain glass wall creates a beacon, puts a spotlight on activity within, and pronounces the district’s brand by revealing a giant backlit sign. By day, it is an instructional center, lounge, study hall, gathering space and cafeteria. Relocating the student store and café to the commons both centralized these functions while also creating a transition between the existing cafeteria and the addition. In order to marry the student life center to the existing cafeteria, walls and floor coverings were removed and the ceilings were painted.
The addition also allows for the relocation of the media center to the new heart of the building, connected to the student life center and filled with light from clerestory windows. Glass walls visually connect the media center to the commons, reinforcing the multi-purpose and student-centered nature of both spaces. Consolidated administrative and student service offices are now located adjacent to the new secure entry, with a locked vestibule and check-in window, and lobby.
All interior spaces reflect the town’s industrial roots with exposed mechanical systems and trusses, CMU walls, polished concrete floors, balanced by steel plate wall panels, reclaimed woods and felt panels. This simple pallet combined with the school’s signature orange on walls, finishes, and furnishings and super graphics enlivens the original building’s beige backdrop.