Jefferson County High School (JCHS), a school like many in our region that face severe overcrowding and the effects of rapidly aging buildings, received the 2016 Tennessee School Board Association (TSBA) School of the Year Award for Excellence in Design for Renovations and Additions. TSBA confers this award to school boards and architectural firms for distinction in the design of primary and secondary school facilities.
Since its original construction in 1973, Jefferson County High School had gone with no significant facility upgrades but continued to experience 42 years of physical wear and tear, deterioration of building systems, shifts in curriculum, and changes to code-required building standards. Increased pressure from decades of enrollment increases forced JCHS to operate a de facto freshman academy out of 13 portable classrooms on the school grounds. JCHS was in many ways outdated and below current standards.
To help solve these problems, Jefferson County Schools, under the direction of Dr. Charles Edmonds, turned to Knoxville firm Lewis Group Architects (LGA).
“In our work we see patterns happening in public education facilities. School systems trying to fit more students in existing facilities which are already deteriorating. But since administrators often don’t have enough funds to address all their problems simultaneously, we have to help them prioritize problems and find one-time, long-term solutions instead of stop gap measures,” said Doug Shover, LGA’s Education Studio Director.
LGA’s Education Studio completed assessments of the existing facility and made recommendations about how to best use financial and architectural resources to serve teachers and students in the immediate and long-term future.
The challenges facing JCHS required a multifaceted solution. The first step was the design of a new freshman academy, named the Patriot Academy, which was constructed on a separate, nearby campus. This allowed the relocation of freshman students from crowded portables to a campus of their own. Reduced enrollment pressure on the existing high school afforded an opportunity to address urgent facility upgrades and provide new resources such as a long overdue home for the high school’s highly accomplished performing arts program – which was cut from original school construction in 1973 due to budget constraints.
The renovations - totaling 241,850 square feet - significantly enhanced the learning and working environment for students and staff by improving life-safety conditions, improving indoor air quality, providing better acoustical conditions, creating more instructional space by redistributing classrooms, and improving the use of the campus during school and after hours. The value of this work resonated with the award jury.
The additions - totaling 43,900 square feet - included a new administration area with increased security and access control, a new lobby and expansion of the commons area, a small addition for the physical education and ROTC departments, and a substantial performing & visual arts addition. The Performing and Visual Arts Center, which is a focal point for community life, includes 635 seat auditorium, band room, chorus room, rehearsal spaces, three art classrooms, a digital arts lab, and a drama classroom.
Completed in 2016, the 36 month construction process was successfully phased to avoid any interruptions to the day-to-day operations of the school.
Jefferson County Schools and Lewis Group Architects were also conferred a School of the Year Award for Patriot Academy in 2014. This year’s award makes the 12th TSBA School of the Year Award for LGA who received the Award in New Construction in 2015 for Alcoa High School.