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Fanning Howey Creates New Columbia City High School to Better Serve Today's Educational Needs

Indiana’s first newly constructed high school since 2012 will open its doors to students this Fall. Columbia City High School, which currently operates in a building constructed in the 1950’s, has not seen significant infrastructure investment since its opening. In collaboration with the Whitley County Consolidated School Corporation (WCCSC), Fanning Howey designed a new school building that reflects the rapid educational changes that have taken place in the last decade.

With a focus on promoting student collaboration, project designer Chuck Tyler, AIA worked with his team to design a building that meets the specific needs of Whitley County. The new building is organized into three major components that provide a mix of open collaboration space and specialty space for instruction and research.

The Design Process
Determining how to best utilize this new educational space required Fanning Howey to consult with the school and its surrounding community members. During the year it took to design the building, Tyler said his firm solicited opinions and suggestions from current Columbia City High School Students, administration, staff, and others from the area.

“Part of this initiative is putting the students more in control of their own educational experience,” Tyler said.

Since Whitley County currently operates on two parallel campuses; one for their traditional high school and another for Eagle Tech – a project-based learning academy, Fanning Howey sought to bring everyone under the same roof with a new building organized to support various educational pathways. Through extensive conversation with central office administrators and building principals, Tyler found that one of the biggest concerns expressed by educators was their school’s ability to give students skills that allow them to thrive in the 21st century.

Fanning Howey used this input to design the building in a way that gives students and teachers more flexibility when using different areas of the school. This is evident when looking at design features like the multi-purpose central commons, where students can participate in a number of activities outside of learning.

Progressive Design Features
Fanning Howey worked closely with Columbia City High School’s educators to design a building that reflects the school’s educational goals. The newly constructed 275,000-square-foot building is organized into three major components that connect to each other: The building’s East end features six academic academies, the middle section includes facilities for administration, guidance staff, and a multi-purpose central commons, and the West end of campus is comprised of athletic and physical education facilities.
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Each of the six academies on the East end of the building includes a central learning commons that is surrounded by various learning studios and labs. According to Tyler, the learning commons is an extension of those academic spaces. This provides breakout space for students to work in teams or work independently, which gives the school more variety as it relates to the sizes of groups they can accommodate.

In the middle section of the school stands a multi-purpose common area that serves as a gathering space for students, as well as a dining area, a large-group instruction venue, and a pre-function space for the 600-seat auditorium.

“It’s sort of the heart of the building, if you will,” Tyler said.

On the site’s West end, Fanning Howey designed a 3,000-seat gymnasium to go along with a new football stadium, new tennis courts, new baseball and softball facilities, and an outdoor classroom. The athletic wing section of campus also includes offices, strength training facilities, locker rooms, and an auxiliary gym that will accommodate three full courts and a perimeter jogging track.

Tyler said the building features an extensive amount of natural light and windows, which gives the school an open and airy atmosphere that does not exist in the current building. Fanning Howey also converted remembrances for lost Columbia City High School students and staff into one promontory memorial site on campus.

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Because this is the first newly constructed high school in nearly a decade, Tyler said his team incorporated certain design elements that are only seen in modern schools. He said the campus was created with a layered security approach that combines passive design elements with active technology systems.

Community Involvement
Columbia City High School is a vital part of its community. Tyler and his team at Fanning Howey knew this and worked closely with residents of the city to ensure their new building can be used for more than just teaching.

“The high school for Columbia City is very much one of those centers of community,” Tyler said. “The auditorium was conceived as a performing arts center for use by both the school and the community."

Just as classrooms and other educational spaces were designed with flexibility in mind, Tyler said his team used their knowledge of the community to create spaces that can be used by Columbia City residents for purposes outside of education.

“There is a significant community component to this high school and that’s part of what makes it so exciting,” Tyler said. “It will be great to see everyone get inside and take advantage of it.”

Tyler said one of his favorite parts about working on this project is seeing how its completion affects those who use the building most. Students, teachers, and community members are the ultimate judges of the new school, so it was important to Tyler that they felt positively about the building.

“Students are incredibly excited about coming back to the new facility in the Fall,” Tyler said. “There is a palpable excitement in the community, and they can’t wait to get inside and look at it.”

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He said he is pleased with how the project has evolved and he looks forward to helping more educators achieve their academic goals through designs that fit their needs.

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