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Rebuilt for the 21st Century: New school builds on memory of old campus to connect to surrounding community


Originally built in 1953, Papago School in Phoenix is deeply rooted in the surrounding community, where generations of neighboring families attended the school. When the building became structurally obsolete, building a new school was seen as an opportunity to revitalize both the educational culture and the community.


The Creighton School District administration felt it was necessary to portray an aesthetic that would be seen as a learning environment for the future. It was important that the new buildings be seen as a chance to start anew, rather than just replacement space.


Developed with input from students, parents and school officials, the new school is made up of four main buildings with a courtyard in the middle. One building houses administrative offices and the middle school; one is home to kindergarten through third grade; the third has grades four through six; and the last building includes the gym and cafeteria, with an "offshoot" for the library and computer lab. Construction on the school began in February 2011 and was completed that December, in time for the spring 2012 semester.



Respecting Tradition

With the new building, David Schmidt, RA, LEED AP BD+C, architect at Orcutt | Winslow, Phoenix, explains that the school district wanted to minimize operational costs and overall energy performance. Additionally, he adds, the school district is exploring new ideas in student-centered learning styles. "The new campus had to stand as the flagship and prototype for a school district that was reinventing learning, while respecting the tradition and memory of the previous campus."


Since the original school was one of the first structures built after farming seceded, Schmidt notes that the old campus layout influenced the locations of buildings and the circulation around them of the adjacent neighborhood. By laying out traces of buildings and circulation on the old campus and letting those influence the new design, Schmidt says they were able to stay in sync with the adjacent properties.


One example, Schmidt notes is the school's main pedestrian entrance, which aligns with pedestrian flow at the nearby multifamily residential complex. The original campus, he says, was important to many area residents who had multiple generations attend the school, attend dances and celebrate weddings. "Since the site was entirely cleared," Schmidt adds, "the most we could do was recreate a trace of the previous campus in the landscape/hardscape and the walls of the new buildings."



Rising from the Ashes

Schmidt notes that the new buildings were thought of as shiny new forms rising out of the ashes like the Phoenix bird. The building is made up of gray masonry bases topped with pristine white metal; the horizontal ribs acting like growth rings. Masonry, he notes, was seen as a necessity for durability at the ground level.


"Once it was determined that the upper portion of the buildings would be clad in architectural metal there was no question that it would be a horizontally corrugated white panel," Schmidt explains. "The color was simple and represented purity while providing a backdrop for the primary colors that accent each wing of the campus. The horizontal corrugations emphasize the horizontality of the metal clad bar growing above the gray masonry base, as well as symbolizing growth rings."

Each of the campus' wings is accented with primary colors, made up of colored glass and paint, located in areas where the building is "cut out," or "cut open," Schmidt explains. "Metaphorically, we thought of each wing as a big melon with a subtle exterior color-white metal and gray block-that when cut open has a colorful interior," he says. "We wanted to use primary and secondary colors as we thought them most identifiable to primary school students but also thought them to be a little cliché so we chose a more hip version of each."


The school's second floor is clad in 25,800 square feet of ribbed 6-up 6-down horizontal concealed fastener metal wall panels in white from Ultra Seam Inc., Clay, Ky. The 6-up 6-down profile was chosen because the large ribs provided a texture in proportion with the building scale and emphasized length in an effort to visually reduce the mass of the buildings. This was important due to the facility's use as an elementary school and in response to the low-slung ranch house architecture of the surrounding neighborhood.



The project also features 9,900 square feet of Ultra Seam's 12-inch flush concealed fastener soffit panels in a contrasting yellow color. The flush panels were chosen for the horizontal and vertical skin of the large entry canopy, where it serves as both the soffit and roof, draining water to integral gutters, eliminating the need for a separate roofing system. Made up of 5,400 square feet of 36-inch corrugated exposed fastener metal panels, the rooftop mechanical screens are an intentional architectural form, like saucers on the roof. The mechanical screens were designed and fabricated to use a single metal panel run horizontally, which was chosen as an economical alternative in a low-visibility location.


Additionally, 13,000 square feet of parapet coping and trim of all building elements was done in a matching architectural metal, and miscellaneous framed projections were covered in 1,200 square feet of matching standing seam roof panels, all supplied by Ultra Seam.


Longevity and Durability

Given Arizona's dry climate, Schmidt notes that the choice of a building finish has long-term maintenance cost implications. The use of architectural metal provides a maintenance-free finish, while the masonry at ground level is easily repainted if tagged or scratches form.


The school features reused masonry from the existing building, combined with durable metals intended to last many years. The architectural metal provides a modern look that contrasted markedly with the brick and shingles of the school it replaced. "This palette," Schmidt says, "honors a theme of continuity serving function, identity and contemporary technology."


* Photos by Stefan Yarish, CAPS