Transforming Brutal into Beautiful

Winchester High School
Winchester, Massachusetts

How do you transform something brutal into something beautiful, rigidity into flexibility, and the imposing into the inviting? These are the questions SMMA had to answer in its approach to renovating Winchester High School, a 1970’s Brutalist-styled building, serving 1,370 students. The directive from the Town of Winchester was to transform the out-of-place aesthetic and to reflect the school’s top ten Massachusetts public school status and National Blue Ribbon credentials through new programming and design.

Through a rigorous educational planning process, the project team incorporated technology, STEM, and art-related disciplines into the school, while, accommodating various learning styles and classroom typologies, and co-locating classes to allow for integrated learning and collaboration.

Front entrance stairs at Winchester High School in Massachusetts

A Sinking Site

The team began with a feasibility study that included a town-wide search for a suitable alternative to the existing site, focusing on twelve properties. The study proved that the original location was best suited for the school, given its ideal location in the middle of town. The site also provided specific challenges, as it was built entirely on top of a landfill and surrounded by a floodplain. It required extraordinary bracing via pressured injected footings, helical piles, and tilt slabs to stiffen the massive concrete building frame and prevent settlement over time. 

The process the engineering team developed to make this happen earned a Bronze Award in Engineering Excellence.

  • New school auditorium at Winchester High School

The building was rehabilitated in three phases, all of which were completed while occupied by students, further complicating the project. Adding to the laundry list of challenges, there wasn’t any classroom swing space available. As a result, this required the placement of 35 modular classrooms on the site.

  • Construction of New Winchester High School
  • Construction of New Winchester High School
  • Construction of New Winchester High School

Supporting the Curriculum

The new layout reversed the previous configuration by locating classroom and student spaces on the perimeter, to gain natural light, while secondary classrooms and support spaces were placed towards the core of the building.

Specific classroom “wings” correspond to different subjects, such as arts instruction or science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) learning. In addition, the team created critical adjacencies for STEAM (STEM, plus the arts) programs. These interventions included replacing outdated workshops, equipment, pedagogy, and inflexible isolated rooms with multi-layered and connected programs.

As well, relocating key visual and performing art programs puts them in close proximity to the new Innovation Lab and enables greater opportunity for integrated programming.

A High-Performing School

It was paramount that the new high school would follow sustainable design practices and continue to operate sustainably. The team worked closely with the Construction Manager to successfully execute the phased renovation of the occupied school over the course of three years. By collaborating with the school and town, and through rigorous cost-estimating and planning, the team was able to have their goals for a high performance and sustainable design to come to fruition. Through the implementation of high performance and energy efficient building systems, the predicted energy performance for the new Winchester High School yielded a pEUI of 45  , a vast improvement from the original building’s EUI of 72. Despite all of the new community functions that the renovated school now hosts, the operational EUI (2019) runs is 41.6 kBtu/SF/yr. 

The initial feasibility study performed to determine the best site for the school showed that the town forest was the only viable option besides the existing site. Neither the town, school, nor the SMMA team was in favor of removing the forest. As such, the team moved forward working with the existing site to the benefit of the greater community. 

Building Infrastructure
The team managed to conserve 92% of the embodied energy from the existing structure to reinvigorate the previously dark and heavy frame. The old exposed brick and concrete frame was enclosed in a new energy-efficient skin, while the windows were replaced with a high-performing glazing system. 

LEED Certification
While the project had committed to LEEDv3 Silver, the project was able to achieve LEEDv3 Gold. 

Electricity and Lighting
Relocating inward-facing classrooms to the new, lighter perimeter helped to provide greater daylighting in the classrooms. The nearly universal use of LED lighting, in combination with a digital network lighting control system, throughout the building helped to achieve a considerable reduction in lighting power density   of .66 w/sf and provided a higher level of controllability to the teachers.

An innovative combination of displacement ventilation with horizontal chilled beams provides space and energy-efficient cooling and enhanced ventilation.

Duct Weight Calculation

Winchester High School's ductwork systems were previously designed using galvanized steel, aluminum, and carbon steel, each of which had different weights.

Aside from adding a parameter for materiality, the team added parameters for calculated value, including duct surface area and total duct weight. The total weight of the ductwork has been reflected in the creation of one schedule per each material. The correct gauge and weight of material from the SMACNA standards was then applied to calculate the equivalent diameter of each duct.

The team concluded that the school used 85,430 lbs of galvanized steel, 3,522 lbs of aluminum, and 91,430 lbs of carbon steel. That's more than 5.5 miles of ductwork and 10.5 miles of piping!

Rendering of duct work inside the new Winchester High School

Brutal to Beautiful

The school’s rapidly deteriorating conditions did not inspire belief that it could be transformed. Knowing that the school’s outdoor learning environments and parking would both be greatly affected by site conditions, SMMA proposed the use of lightweight materials, seismic bracings for the rigid concrete frame, chilled beam HVAC systems throughout, and increased glazing for increased daylight and updated aesthetics. The design proposed at a town meeting garnered nearly unanimous support.

As a result, SMMA was able to transform the school into a stronger, lighter, and more energy-efficient building, that is an asset to the community-at-large. The new school conveys in its built fabric the educational ideals of the faculty and elevates the status of its students by creating a superior environment for learning.