This new 2-story middle school is located in the small agricultural community of Green Forest, Arkansas in a wide valley among the Ozark Mountains. Upon initial evaluation of the proposed site, we recognized the importance of the existing central greenspace to the campus as a common area. Used often throughout the day as a gathering place for middle school and high school students, it is a transitional space consistently traversed by all manner of students and members of the community. The space provides access to the campus football field and acts as a plaza for the old CWA gymnasium, art + music, cafeteria, and agricultural buildings on the campus.
In the early master planning stages, the school's desire to fill in the entire greenspace with a one-story classroom building (which would have eliminated the central outdoor space of the campus) was reinterpreted by proposing a modern 2-story building capable of preserving 2/3 of the available exterior space as a student commons and community plaza. The design is resolved through the use of economical and intelligent materials combined to enrich the existing campus through the interaction of people, space, form and color.
The structure is a poignant new presence in the newly defined plaza, poised to receive students and visitors under the 16' cantilever of the white standing seam metal roof that unifies entire building. This covered zone, combined with the figure-ground of the corrugated metal panel and concrete block of the western wall is an event space serving the school and the greater community. The landscaped plaza uses native plantings to define a rain garden as well as an alumni garden that contains concrete pavers with signatures from the early graduates of the public school system. A large processional sidewalk leads to the building entry, marked by the cantilevered library box clad in red metal panel, a service to the school’s color.
Inside, a spacious atrium with a floating stair and a large skylight above creates a pivotal moment of light and movement as the primary hub of circulation. The vertical red wall of the elevator—again, homage to the school’s color—is a catalyst for activity. The building reveals its bones as an innate educational component and provides relief to the volume of the entry, reception areas , and the corridors that connect the classrooms.
The library and circulation spaces on the second level open to the entry below. Conceived as a transparent platform, the library floats above the entry with the outward projection of a window box to frame a view to the west. Overlooking the plaza and high school beyond, the box becomes a deep window seat suitable for students to engage the books around them. Economically sized classrooms flank the wide corridors of the first and second floors and offer large windows for daylight and fresh air. Custom steel lintels hold room numbers that mark the threshold of each learning space. The north end of the second floor corridor resolves into another projected window seat box and provides a respite from the busy hallway and secondary stair.
The Special Education Learning component, located on the northeast corner, offers a private garden and covered entry to provide a comfortable atmosphere for the practical applications of teaching daily resource classes. On the eastern façade, projects itself toward the football field and acts as a compositional balance for the structure.
Placed in the center of the campus, all elevations of the school are carefully composed of concrete block and metal panel to dynamically address each approach. These durable, low-maintenance materials are common to economical school construction, but are creatively combined to provide a unique design aesthetic. As a base material, the standard-sized, sand-blasted, stack-bond concrete block is used in lieue of split-face block, which is the most typical material for school construction. This smooth block keeps the building friendly to students and other users occupying the landscaped gathering spaces around the building. The standing seam shed roof of the building channels all water to the east side in continuation with the natural hydrology of the site while also providing a compositional shell embracing the main volume of the new structure.
The context of the greater campus was also addressed in terms of aesthetics and safety as the project includes development of a new pedestrian plaza connecting the middle school and high school across the primary street of Philips Avenue. Prior to the new design, the street was shut down from all vehicular access during school hours. The new street design carefully controls vehicular movement speed, maximizes circulation for parking and bus (un)loading and creates a tree-lined boulevard to beautify the primary school zone.
The Green Forest Public Schools receive monetary support from the state department of education and with our management and shepherding of the project, maximum state support was secured by meeting and exceeding the state requirements while holding firmly to the belief that educational space can and should, through intelligent design, be inspirational and healthy.
The Green Forest Athletic Complex reshapes the vision of this small public school district’s athletic program with a sleek language of color and form. Located directly to the south of the previously designed modern middle school, the new stands and press box continue the proportions and color coding which are now very identifiable sources of community pride within the Green Forest Public Schools Campus. By establishing a clear processional entry with striking color and form, the pulse of the athletic program is captured in a manner justifiable with the fervor that sporting events demand of small public school realms in the South. This project redefines the athletic + academic edge of the campus and supports the activities that take place on the site, from fundraisers sparked on the under-bleacher terrace to the collective community joining together in support of the home team. The new design sports much-needed service facilities while the enlarged track, new stadium lighting, and re-graded football field elevate the competitive game play and hosting capabilities of the district.
Simple design decisions simultaneously capture and invigorate this community. The ongoing work on this campus is a tangible sign that good architecture can positively enhance the everyday expectations in the realm of public education and athletics.