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The Williamsburg-James City County school division wants its fourth middle school to be a school of the future.
The WJCC School Board reviewed a conceptual update on the division’s fourth middle school at its meeting Tuesday night. The new middle school is planned as a two-phase project constructed through 2024 at a total cost of about $61 million.
The school’s final capacity is projected at around 900 students.
Superintendent Steven Constantino said discussions on the school’s design had emphasized four essential criteria for construction:
- Producing a design suitable for a 35- to 50-year lifespan for the building
- Maximizing the ability to personalize learning for students
- Creating opportunities for students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics
- Creating a space that can be used in the future as technology changes
Michael Hall, president of Fanning Howey, an educational facility planning company that is working with Waller, Todd & Sadler architects to design the school, presented conceptual designs for the interior of the proposed school, conjuring parallels to Star Trek.
A conceptual floorplan featured movable walls, allowing classrooms to be rearranged to suit different lessons or class sizes. Glass dividers between rooms had the twofold effect of increasing the amount of natural light and creating a sense of openness.
Furniture in the building would also emphasize movement and flexibility. Chairs and tables would have wheels allowing easy movement from one place to another.
Hall said the transparency in the design and the state-of-the-art furniture would increase connectivity, collaboration and social interaction between students and teachers. Lab classroom space would be “multi-purpose,” allowing for uses beyond the traditional science class.
Technology would also be emphasized, with smart boards dotting conceptual classrooms and conceptual students each equipped with an iPad.
“The goal is learning starts the minute someone steps onto the site,” Hall said.
Jumping ahead to the construction phase, Hall said the plan involved three key points:
- Retaining Cooley Field
- Giving the school curb appeal
- Retaining the administrative offices annex through phase one of construction
Constantino said the new school would be an “inspirational space,” that would require additional professional development to prepare faculty moving into the building.
“[We can’t] design it for a new type of learning and then try to do it like we did 20 years ago,” Constantino said.
Those members of the School Board who commented on the presentation expressed support for the concepts.
“Just like we don’t expect the same educational outcomes from 20, 30, 40 years ago, we shouldn’t use the same methods as 20, 30 or 40 years ago,” School Board Chairman Jim Kelly (Jamestown) said.
Design work on the new school is expected to continue through January 2016.
The proposal approved by the School Board featured the addition of a new wing onto the current James Blair administrative offices to allow for a 650-seat middle school in phase one of the two-phase project. In the second phase, the existing administrative offices would be leveled to make way for a new wing, which would increase capacity to 900 students.
Correction 8/19/2015: This article has been updated to reflect Michael Hall’s position with Fanning Howey. A previous version indicated he worked for Waller, Todd & Sadler architects.
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