Student Designers Give Historic Ballfield and Mill New Lives

Posted on: May 24th, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

Written by Renee Kuhlman

I recently saw some amazing designs generated by kids from middle schools across the country during the 2011 School of the Future Design Competition. This competition, hosted by Council for Educational Facility Planners International in honor of School Building Week, is fiercely competitive with regional competitions leading up to the big finale in Washington, DC. The six finalists were all impressive, but the two that made me stand up and cheer were the designs from Heritage Middle School (Wake Forest, North Carolina) and Seneca Middle School (Macomb, Michigan). Why? Because they used the preservation concept of adaptive use in their designs—from the famous but now gone Tiger Stadium in Detroit to the Glen Royal Mills building. Check out their stories.

Ben Malian, Seneca Middle School Student, Macomb, Michigan

Macomb, Michigan students reused the historic ballfield from Tiger Stadium as the center of their school of the future. This “hallowed ground” would once again host athletic activities and would be surrounded by classrooms, dorms, and gardens. (Photo: Seneca Middle School Design Team)

Macomb, Michigan students reused the historic ballfield from Tiger Stadium as the center of their school of the future. This “hallowed ground” would once again host athletic activities and would be surrounded by classrooms, dorms, and gardens. (Photo: Seneca Middle School Design Team)

You may wonder why middle school students would choose an old major league baseball park to build a school of the future. This is because to us and our fellow Detroiters, this is not just an ordinary ballpark. It is hallowed ground to many of us. Tiger Stadium opened on April 12, 1912. This date may ring a bell because it was the same day that Fenway Park in Boston opened and it was also the tragic day of the sinking of the Titanic. Although the stadium is almost one hundred years old and has been demolished for two years, the land is still cared for by Detroiters who play baseball on it today. They also do all the landscaping and still raise the flag in center field. To pay back for the kind deeds these people have done for the ballpark, we decided to use this hallowed ground to build a school of the future in a district that has its own share of educational issues.

Children of Detroit often struggle socially and educationally. We felt that by combining an urban recovery project with a school of the future would only have positive outcomes. We really focused on the test scores and attendance rates of Detroit students and compared them to Japanese children. The Japanese students had much higher scores and attendance due to the length and attendance of the school year as well as the curriculum. Can you imagine how attendance rates at the school could improve if students knew their school was built on the grounds of Tiger Stadium? We tried to incorporate this along with teaching students to live a happy and healthy life.

Tiger Stadium is a place that does not deserve to be left abandoned or forgotten. It should be cared for and loved by all Detroiters and people in the surrounding area.

The Heritage Middle School Design Team, Wake Forest, North Carolina

Wake Forest, NC students reused the historic Glen Royal Mills building for their “school of the future.” To incorporate the school into the community they designed a café, study hall, library, and fitness trail to be used by both students and residents. (Photo: Heritage Middle School Design Team)

Wake Forest, NC students reused the historic Glen Royal Mills building for their “school of the future.” To incorporate the school into the community they designed a café, study hall, library, and fitness trail to be used by both students and residents. (Photo: Heritage Middle School Design Team)

Geographically, Wake Forest is ideal for a School of the Future. Our rapidly-growing town is overflowing with history, potential, and innovation. We decided that to use existing resources and save money we would retrofit an existing structure for our School of the Future. Our research of the Wake Forest Community led us to the historic Glen Royal Mills building. Greatly influenced by Glen Royal Mills distinct brick exterior, we were led to a retro-modern interior design theme. The interior is overflowing with eclectic and timeless features such as the furniture, paint, flooring, lighting, and the green aspects. We incorporated more than just basic eco-friendly additions, such as LED lighting, low VOC paints, natural lighting, and cork flooring but also more recent and innovative pieces such as recycled aluminum chairs, Solatubes, a green roof, transitional classrooms and rain barrels that collect rainfall to provide gray water for our gardens and toilets.

Another key feature of our school is its power generation capabilities. Three alternative energy sources are all generated on campus and routed through our own “power plant.” We were inspired to use passive and active solar power from a recent S.T.E.M club field trip to the NC State Solar House, which is a complete eco-home equipped with a state-of-the-art solar system. Our most prominent power source is our solar track, which is integrated with photovoltaic material that soaks in solar energy. Also included are solar awnings and wind power from wind mills. In addition, we heat and cool our building with a ground source geothermal HVAC system.

To better incorporate our school into the community landscape the building features several areas that the public will be invited to use. The café and study hall are spacious and relaxed areas in which the local population can enjoy a healthy and affordable meal or just take advantage of a comfortable and quiet learning environment. The community can also visit the fitness trail located in the central-park-inspired arboretum that has several fitness stations set with exercise equipment. The library, which is also a local branch of the Wake County Public Library system, allows residents to access books, Kindles, computers and other materials. Accessibility features such as elevators, ramps, and handicap-accessible buses are available for disabled individuals and elderly visitors.

A colleague of mine was also impressed when I related these stories – he remarked “these kids understand preservation and its importance to a community better than our own generation.” Don’t know about you, but seeing their designs made me feel very optimistic about the future planning of our schools and our communities.

Renee Kuhlman directs the Helping Johnny Walk to School program which emphasizes that schools can help meet many community goals such as sustaining surrounding neighborhoods and downtowns, increasing active transportation, and being a place where residents can gather.

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