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Monday | 01 November, 2010 | 5:04 am

Enticing steel hallways

By Lauren Duensing

November 2010 - When envisioning wide-open classrooms and hallways infused with natural light, a steel apparatus may not rush to mind. However, architect John Ronan veered from the conventional and designed Gary Comer College Prep using steel and aluminum siding, allowing students to feel safe and excited to go to class each morning.

"I wanted the school to be a progressive-looking building that spoke to the future of the neighborhood," Ronan says. Because of recurrent violence in the community, security is also a concern. Ronan met these concerns by enveloping the school in steel, while using windows and sky lights to provide natural lighting throughout the building.

"The school is a secure-looking building from the outside but is very light and airy inside," Ronan says. "It’s bright and transparent but still looks substantial." This coupling of protection and optimism well-represents the school, which boasts a hands-on approach to teaching more than 500 students.

Steel optimism
Ronan used steel panels from Centria Services Group, Pittsburgh, Pa., when constructing the school because "it weathers well and lasts a long time." The exterior of the school has a "facade that is more screenlike," according to Ronan.

Centria provided material for both the solid and perforated panels used for the school. According to Fred Fischer, district sales manager for Centria, more builders are considering using high-strength steel for other building projects.

Alpolic Materials, Chesapeake, Va., provided the youthful, optimistic, lime-green aluminum composite panels. The idea behind the bright-green panels is that although the structure looks strong and safe, the splash of color reflects the youth and optimism of its teaching staff.

"The aluminum composite panel is a very flat panel with two pieces of aluminum around a plastic core to keep it flat," Ronan adds.

Ronan designed the school around its neighboring four-year-old youth center, which is clad in blue and red panels. The green panels and accompanying fence makes the overall buildings stand out from the rest of the neighborhood, promoting the feeling of a safe learning environment for serious students.

Energy conscious
When erecting the school, the team considered cost-efficiency and impact on the environment. "We tried to make the building as energy efficient as possible. We placed insulation on the outside of the building in order to get continuous insulation instead of placing it in the walls," Ronan says. "We used energy-efficient glazing and considered the efficiency of the envelope, as well." Ronan adds he and his team try to make environmentally friendly and energy cost-cutting considerations for all their projects.

One way to reduce energy costs was to introduce light into every classroom from two different directions. It’s about creating a proper learning environment from the standpoint of light and acoustics, ensuring practicality as well as being a fun building that makes kids excited to attend class.

All classrooms reside on the perimeter of the building to allow for an optimum amount of natural lighting. Each classroom touches the outside walls, "it’s about making the best use of the site," Ronan adds.

The school also does a changing act from day to night, with an optical effect that is a result of perforated metal. "When the sun is out, you can’t see into the school at all," Ronan notes. "But it’s easy to see out--at night, you have the reverse effect."

The school’s mantra to "be noble" is a fitting aspiration, and Ronan’s design provides the realm for students to exceed expectations. MM

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