A New Generation Gymnasium
Mead Middle School
By Paul Hutton, AIA
Science is not taught with slide rules anymore nor is computer technology taught on main frames. So why teach physical education in spaces with the same construction technology as 25 years ago?
Education has changed, and so should the buildings where education happens. At the St. Vrain Valley School District in Longmont, Colo., physical education has made the leap into the 21st century of "high-performance schools" with a new breed of gymnasium design.
High-performance school design offers the benefits of lower operating and utility costs, decreased environmental impacts, and most importantly, improved learning for the students through healthy, comfortable and well-lit environments. "Green" and "sustainable" architecture have typically been used to describe buildings that reduce energy consumption and use recycled materials, while high performance refers to buildings that go beyond sustainability to provide enhanced learning environments.
Many factors comprise high-performance school buildings. Those most fundamental for improved learning are excellent indoor air quality, natural daylighting, thermal comfort and good acoustics. In the year 2000, the benefits of daylighting were highlighted in a study showing substantial gains in standardized test scores as a result of incorporating daylight in educational spaces. The importance of thermal comfort and air quality in human productivity are also well-documented.
In the past, gymnasiums in the St. Vrain Valley School District have been windowless boxes with industrial lighting and rooftop units for heating and ventilation. Project architects, Hutton Ford Architects, proposed to daylight the gym and to ventilate it using a concept called "displacement ventilation," thereby resolving the district's primary concerns with its older gyms: poor acoustics, bad air quality and high utility bills. The Mead Middle School is considered a prototype for future gym construction in the district and is a test case for these new technologies.