Students do not typically look forward to returning to school after Christmas break, but 6th-8th graders in Columbus, Mississippi, were anxious to hit the books in early 2011; they were excited to move into their newly-constructed, state-of-the-art school.
Perhaps what they weren't expecting, however, was the level of technology and the fun, casual atmosphere they would find when they stepped into the 150,515 -square foot facility that involved custom-designed metal construction from a hometown company.
Students in grades 6th through 8th had previously attended two separate schools in Columbus. When a reorganization of grades K-8 in the school district involved combining grades 6-8, renovating the existing buildings was determined by the school board and administration to be too costly and inefficient. According to school Superintendent Del Phillips, it was then decided to build a new facility to house the three grades.
Ceco Building Systems, with its company headquarters and Southern Service Center located only a few miles away, was anxious to be involved in the construction of the new school. "This exciting school concept is a precursor of things to come in the education community, and Ceco was pleased to be involved with local architects Pryor and Morrow in design assistance and constructing a 'school of the future'," commented Ceco President Roger Burlingame.
Partners on the project team were Chris Morrow of Pryor & Morrow Architects of Columbus; Rick Williams and Mike Lum, project managers with West Brothers Construction of Columbus; and Jerry Smith, project superintendent with West Brothers.
The new Columbus Middle School, located on Highway 373 in northeast Columbus, is like none these students and faculty had known. It features incredible security measures, wireless Internet throughout the building and online, interactive "chalkboards," as well as modular furniture and a color scheme that creates a comfortable mood conducive to learning.
"The building is very functional," explained Phillips. "It was built with teaching and learning in mind, and integrates new technology into the daily activities in every classroom."
The 150,515 -square-foot clearspan project comprises seven buildings radiating from a rotunda "hub": a gym/cafeteria, 6th grade wing, 7th grade wing, 8th grade wing, band hall, administration, auditorium/band hall and library.
"The principal can stand in the rotunda and see down every hallway to monitor the school," Williams commented. "This is a good use of a metal building ... It's very attractive and has a lot of high-end finishes -- very high-tech."
The Typical Classroom
According to Phillips, each of the new classrooms has its own Promethean board, a type of interactive whiteboard that accesses the Internet and has become the primary teaching tool for the Columbus Middle School teacher.
Modular desks and chairs are separate, allowing teachers to easily configure and re-configure seating arrangements for individual learning or team learning, depending on the task at hand.
"We tried to make the library enjoyable, like a Barnes & Noble store," commented Phillips. With both hardwood floors and carpet throughout the room, pendant lighting, light wood and massive windows, students enjoy a very open feel in the library. Cushioned furniture, coffee tables and geometric shapes throughout the area create a warm atmosphere.
Other unique areas in the new school include a gym with its own weight room, 150 combination lockers and a door that opens directly onto the practice field, and a cafeteria that resembles a shopping mall food court.
Morrow commented on unique design aspects of the educational facility. "Interior (structural) loadings varied greatly from space to space. We were able to identify and achieve higher specified loadings where they were needed and not increase the cost of the entire project."
Standard trims were modified to allow the incorporation of other materials like glass-reinforced concrete. Space allocation for columns and frames tended to be somewhat of a challenge according to Morrow, but he explained that early and continual coordination with Ceco made this a smoother process during construction. The roof consists of standing seam Battenlok panels by Ceco in Bronze. A brick veneer covers most of the facility's exterior walls.
"The owner requested a metal roof," commented Chris Morrow, architect with Pryor & Morrow. "We have had positive past experience with Ceco roofing projects, plus they were a local company."
According to Williams, the biggest challenge during the project was enduring 100 days of rain. The project was not delayed, however, as work began on April 9, 2010, and on January 19, 2011, students started classes in the new facility.
Superintendent Phillips also commented on working with Ceco. "Ceco did a tremendous job. They were there every step of the way."
The students have taken to their new learning environment positively. "They have responded to it very well," Phillips explained. "They love it."
About Pryor & Morrow Architects
Founded in 1985, Pryor & Morrow Architects maintains offices in Columbus and Tupelo, Mississippi. Clients include area school districts, municipalities and financial institutions.
About West Brothers Construction
West Brothers Construction, Inc., has been in the general contracting business since 1971, with its main operations located in Columbus, Mississippi. Owned by brothers Ronnie and Steve West, the company provides new construction, building renovation and design/build facilities, specializing in facilities management, pre-construction services and building renovation. Its industrial division handles civil construction from earthwork and foundations to the finished product.