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Hafer Design Finishes Work on Signature School in Evansville

by: Jack Quigley
Hafer Design recently completed work on a new building for Signature School in downtown Evansville. Signature school is an Indiana charter school with nearly 400 students ranging from grades 9 to 12. The school has seen a recent increase in applicants, so its administrators decided it was time to build a facility that could accommodate more students and provide more opportunities.

Hafer’s design for the new building included 17,700 square feet of additions and 2,650 square feet of renovations. During the design process, Hafer's President Jeff Justice, AIA said his team interviewed administrators, faculty members, and students to understand their visions for the new school.

“We listen first. We don’t go into any projects with preconceived ideas,” Justice said.

This open dialogue allowed Hafer to design a facility that meets the specific needs of the school and its surrounding Evansville community

Tailoring the Design
Interviews with administration, faculty, and students revealed some key priorities for the new design to Hafer. Signature School’s staff expressed interest in large and flexible spaces that can be used for purposes such as testing areas, lunch spaces, or presentation venues. Hafer also spoke with Signature School students about features the students wanted to see in the new design.

These conversations showed that students were interested in collaborative areas where they could have breakout sessions and interact with each other. Using input from students and staff, Justice worked with his team to design a large entrance common area that occupies nearly two thirds of the first floor. With a newly installed skylight, Justice said this area becomes the center of focus for the building.

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It was also important to those involved with the school to maintain certain aspects of the historic building. To accomplish this, Hafer came up with a few creative solutions to add to their design.

They designed a façade that blends elements of the original brick with contemporary materials and detailing with glass, metal panels, and limestone brick. Signature School also wanted to keep the clock tower that was a central part of the old building. So, Hafer had the old clock tower demolished from the previous building and incorporated into the corner of the new building.

“I’m proud of the fact that it anchors a very important corner in downtown Evansville and provides a great continuation of the historic context of that lot,” Justice said.

Community Engagement
Signature School is a unique school building because it is part of a downtown urban high school campus – something Justice said is not common in the state of Indiana.

“They see the corporate world, they see the government world, they see the theatrical and hospitality world all happening around them in an urban setting,” Justice said. “So that is unique to the Signature School.”

Justice said this project was special for him because he was designing a facility that can be used for purposes outside of day-to-day education.

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“(Signature School) is an important recruiting tool for our community,” he said. “Everyone understands the great things that the school is doing.”

Justice said new families and new businesses are drawn to downtown Evansville because of the school, and he is quite pleased that his firm got the opportunity to work on such an innovative project.

Hafer’s Value
Justice talked about the value that this project holds for him and his fellow Hafer employees. He said his firm embraced the challenge of designing a successful project in the middle of a downtown urban setting.

He also mentioned that working with Signature School throughout the design process reinforced to him the importance of involving their clients in projects, as well as the value of working diligently to maintain a strict budget.

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