United ISD—J.B. Alexander 9th Grade Center
Architect: Pfluger Architects
Contributing Firm: Frank Architects, Inc.
This district decided to take an intentional and incremental approach to integrating 9th-graders into the high school experience. The plan was to develop a 9th-grade campus for each existing high school. Through thoughtful planning and sustainable design solutions, this newly constructed 9th-grade center, one of four, has not only staved off the necessity to build a new high school but has had a positive impact on student success.
The design concept was multi-faceted. The campus needed to have a compact, efficient plan that could be adapted to multiple sites. Security was a priority to create an environment where students can excel. Interior spaces had to be open and free-flowing without the potential for bottlenecks or corners in which to hide. The heavy use of masonry served multiple purposes. Each color/design scheme matched the associated high school campus, and its use supported local industry and artisans.
The inherent value of this campus is the opportunity for students to mature and explore educational possibilities in a safe environment. The design is efficient with single, wide-corridors on each level, providing unimpeded visibility. The porcelain tile floors and locally sourced CMU walls are durable and reach toward clerestories that flood indoor courtyards with natural light. Materials and systems were chosen for their long-life and reduced maintenance that minimize life-cycle costs.
The building’s compact footprint and proper site orientation reduces energy use. Locally produced CMU helps lower the structure’s embodied energy, and selected finishes, systems, and controls are low-maintenance and provide reduced lifecycle costs. All collaborative spaces have natural light from Low-E high-performance windows, which provide a connection to nature. At the same time, low VOC paints and finishes reduce contaminants in air quality.
Providing opportunities and improving academic outcomes will ultimately enrich the communities served by this facility. CTE programming supported by community leaders and industry partners so that students who participate gain a competitive edge through advanced academic study, workplace skills training, and certifications. Students can graduate with certifications in First Aid, CPR, Dental Assistant, and Medical Office Assistant.
The 9th-Grade Center serves many purposes. 1) A transitioned exposure to high school experience lets students explore and engage at an age-appropriate level. 2) Each class creates bonds of friendship and accountability based on shared interests and experience. 3) Creating a collegiate-like atmosphere breeds responsibility and opens the mind to academic potential and post-high school opportunities. 4) The practical side, the 9th-Grade Centers relieves the need to build a fifth high school.
Statistically, the odds are stacked against students in this border town. But, rather than shuffle them through the system, this district chose to engage at a critical juncture and as a single grade level to inspire them to explore their potential. This campus has seen successes since opening and expects the trend to continue. Teachers are thrilled to watch their students learn to become lifelong learners and encouraged that they will bring these concepts and new skills back to this community.
Star of Distinction Category Winner