United Township High School
2020 • American Institute of Architects, Iowa ChapterPeople's Choice Award
The design of a 32,000-square-foot renovation and addition to United Township High School 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.
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.
The addition includes two student-centered spaces – a new centrally located Media Center and a new Student Life Center with café and student store.
By relocating the Media Center to the new heart of the school, it is both a literal and figurative academic hub between the classroom and activity wings. The flexible, expanded center includes a seminar room with a teaching wall, four project-based collaboration rooms with monitors, study nooks, and a large multiuse open space. Reconfigurable furniture and technology throughout support both large and small group collaboration, classroom-style lectures, and presentations.
The multi-purpose Student Life Center, with space for more than 400 people, is a common space for study halls and small group collaboration. Larger assemblies or gatherings are supported by large screens with ceiling mounted projectors, an integrated sound system, and space for a portable stage.
Natural light — essential for learning – infuses the addition, where large open spaces and a variety of flexible furnishings also encourage socialization and connection.