A Civic Jewel, an Academic Beacon

West Springfield High School
West Springfield, Massachusetts

The City of West Springfield needed help: Its aging high school was no longer capable of adequately serving the needs of the community. Salvation came in the form of acceptance into the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ “Model School Program,” which was established to help communities and the state save costs through the adoption of a pre-established physical high school model, due to efficiencies of design and schedule during a down economy. In the fall of 2010, SMMA was selected as the designer for the new and improved West Springfield High School, the second of our model high schools, based on our national-award-winning Hudson High School.

The school was the community’s first new significant educational space under the superintendent’s 21st Century School Initiative, and allows the City to take advantage of the State’s only model high school that features a building organized for the complex and evolving student/learner-focused education anticipated by the Education Reform Act.

The administration’s stated desire from the outset was to have a facility capable of transforming traditional department-based practices, thereby initiating a new cultural paradigm.

 

SMMA’s primary project goals: Provide a unique physical building model to allow staff and students to connect across a broad spectrum of curricula, enhance student-directed learning by providing a wide array of flexible use options, and deliver a building that literally, physically opens itself to the broader community that it supports.

 

Defining the Space

The 257,500-square-foot, 1,340-student school features eight neighborhood clusters on four levels, centered around large group instruction spaces and serving three academic centers of excellence – Humanities, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), and Fine & Performing Arts, as well as a Freshman Academy named the Terrier House. Large group instruction spaces are one- and two-story flexible teaching labs that allow for cross-disciplinary teaching, project-based learning programs, and multi-media instruction, as well as student and team governance.

Built on the slope of an 80-foot hill behind the existing high school, the new state-of-the-art green school is a day-lit, welcoming community resource that includes an elevated exercise track, a 2,500-square-foot multi-purpose athletic and dance space, a natatorium with a 50-meter pool, a performance theater and mini-theater, and a library learning commons arranged around a student commons/cafeteria and oval entrance courtyard.

Community Ties

The new high school, with adequate physical spaces, community-use fitness and pool facilities, state-of-the-art technology, and energy-efficient systems, allows for the dynamic student/teacher interconnections envisioned by the administration and staff. 

The student commons—the heart of the new school—wraps around a community plaza and serves as a major civic space for the public, connecting the school’s athletics, arts, and learning commons programs to the City. Fine & Performing Arts are located near the main entrance, providing a touchstone to the community. The 700-seat performing arts theater and nearby 250-seat mini-theater offer flexibility for lectures and group performances.

A new three-station gym with an overhead walking track, a fitness center, and multi-purpose dance spaces are available to the community after school hours, and a new community pool with a dedicated entrance lobby is accessible during school hours. 

SMMA’s team of civil engineers and landscape designers was able to solve site-planning riddles while meeting objectives for improving stormwater management, parking and stacking efficiency, and site safety.

Alternative Learning

The new school provides appropriate spaces for the Alternative High School Program (AHS), which serves high-risk students challenged by traditional school environments due to social or emotional difficulties. The AHS provides a separate but visible entrance, as these students often have unorthodox schedules or difficulty among the larger student population.

The AHS has its own commons, with a kitchenette, toilets, and a small group area for counselor and parent meetings. The space also has an innovative special needs program through which students maintain a food lab and restaurant that doubles as a staff dining area. Special needs resource centers are integrated throughout the pods.

The Living School

The building was designed both to meet the state’s Green School requirements and to achieve LEED for Schools certification. By strategically locating the school into the steep hillside behind the existing building, the new facility protects and enhances the natural wetlands to the sides and front of the site. Clerestory monitors bring daylight deep into centrally located, large group-instruction spaces.