Feature Article - April 2009
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Reaching Out

Recreation in Underserved Communities

By Stacy St. Clair

Reach Out to Berkeley

To the north in Berkeley, the high school's new recreation and athletic facility enlivens an urban campus that was revamped as part of a local bond initiative to upgrade all of the city's schools. The $30 million project includes a 25-yard competition and teaching pool, gymnasium, student union and dining hall, library, classrooms, administration offices, and college counseling center.

Located within Berkeley's landmark Civic Center Historic District, the new buildings are designed to create gateways into the campus as extensions of the existing city streets. The segmented design organizes functions into zones allowing community use of the gym, pool, dining hall or library during non-school hours.

Built of durable cast-in-place concrete to withstand heavy daily use of recreational and student services, the high school complex is light-filled and has a high degree of transparency. The quality of design encourages students to feel pride and ownership, discourages graffiti—an important feature for any school—and encourages participation. The new complex supports the social interaction essential to the school's educational mission, as well as reconnects the high school to its urban community.

On a tight urban site, the buildings were crafted to take maximum advantage of daylight. Large clerestory windows in the gym and glazed walls framing the pool allow natural light to pour in. Elevations facing west are glass-enclosed, providing cross-ventilation and additional views and daylight.

On the interior, bold yellow structural trusses sport the team color while adding interest and scale to the large spaces. On the second floor, a glass-enclosed view into the gym provides dynamic movement to enliven the area in front of the elevator.

But it's not just the aesthetics or the additional programming opportunities that make the buildings special. It's the attention to the detail, the understanding of how teens think and what's important to them.

For example, the central student union, ringed with clerestories, has become a popular gathering spot for eating, discussions and performances, much to the satisfaction of counselors and student advisers whose new offices open directly to the seating area. As such, use of student services has increased sharply.

In order to get to the student union, students have to pass the counseling center. Officials hoped the layout might encourage students to try services they might otherwise ignore. With its university campus-type feel, the design gives students a taste of college freedom while still in high school.

"It really gives the kids a sense of independence," said architect Edward Noland, an associate principal at ELS. "The school wants the students to prepare for the next phase of their education as best they can."

And should they need more encouragement, the library has a scenic view of the University of California, Berkeley campus.

"They can see the campus as they study or do research," Noland said. "We want to inspire them as much as we can."