Superintendent: New Lee High a ‘prototype for the future’

Superintendent Bernard Taylor officially unveiled the proposed design for the new Lee High School at a community meeting Thursday night, calling it a “prototype for the future.”

Taylor said the school, which will house about 1,200 students enrolled in three special programs, needs to have staying power.

“We want a building that will be usable not just in 2016, but in 2056,” he said.

The renderings and schematics of the new Lee generated enthusiasm from many of the 150 people who showed up to listen Thursday.

Dee Wellan, who lives in University Acres, near Lee’s historic home at 1105 Lee Drive, said the design reminds her of the college-style high schools that populate suburban Dallas near where her daughter lives.

Wellan, a former LSU instructor, said she likes the openness, with lots of outdoor areas for students to congregate.

“It’s experiential learning on campus, and I applaud (the designers) for that,” Wellan said.

Taylor spoke in the school gym at Lee’s temporary home at 4510 Bawell St., formerly Valley Park Alternative School. Students moved here in August.

They will return to Lee Drive in August 2015 when the rebuilding of Lee High is complete.

The original, dilapidated Lee High facility was demolished over the summer.

“What’s going on at Lee High School now is the incubator for what’s to come,” Taylor said.

The high school has almost 250 students in grades nine, 10 and 11.

The high school, which was closed in 2009 and reopened three years later, was refashioned yet again this past summer as a dedicated magnet school.

It now emphasizes digital arts, as well as science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. When it’s rebuilt, the school plans to add a third magnet, focusing on biomedicine.

Three of the new Lee’s four building will be academies for these three magnet programs. Each will house about 400 students. Taylor said he is seeking corporate sponsors for each one.

The 26-acre campus has room for a potential fourth academy.

Principal Averil Sanders said Lee is focused on students learning via projects.

“Project-based learning is where we take esoteric learning and make it come to life,” said Sanders.

He played for the audience a five-minute video, produced by students, that relies on student interviews to explain the new school.

Dustin Hodges, an 11th-grader, came to Lee to learn about video gaming, but after becoming leader of the school’s robotic team, he’s thinking of focusing on engineering instead.

“I’ve never heard him say he wants to come to school before,” observed his mother, Tausha Mayeaux.

Taylor and the architects described for the audience a school very different from the schools the East Baton Rouge Parish school system has built over the past decade.

Those schools consist of lone or connected buildings, most of them just one story, with traditional facades and traditional instructional spaces.

The new Lee would be four disconnected buildings. The proposed exterior facade is contemporary, featuring metal painted to look like terra cotta along with lots of glass.

The suggested interiors are different still. Instead of classrooms, plans call for studios and work spaces more reminiscent of, well, an architectural firm. Walls would be removable and, in many cases, writable. The school would have three technology-rich libraries designed to be reminiscent of Apple stores.

Architect David Hebert said the design aims for spaces that promote collaboration and foster creativity. He said it’s modeled at least 20 different facilities he and the other architects looked at.

Taylor is hoping the School Board will approve the design at its Oct. 17 meeting, meaning putting the project out for bid in early 2014, starting construction in the spring and completion by the start of the 2015-16 school year.

The estimated project cost is $53.9 million, down from the $58.5 million contemplated a year ago before an architect was selected. The money comes from a 1-cent sales tax voters last renewed in 2008.

The architectural design on display Thursday is a joint effort of Grace & Hebert Architects of Baton Rouge and Kansas City-based architects with DLR Group.

The new Lee High design takes pains to preserve the oak trees on the site, as well a natural swale, or “grassy ravine,” that the architects want to make a much larger green space that can be used as an outdoor classroom.

“We don’t have topography like that anywhere in Baton Rouge,” said Hebert.

The four buildings will collectively occupy 177,000 square feet.

The largest building at 60,000 square feet is a Commons Building, which will include a cafeteria, gym, fitness area and a black box theater. The theater will have a removable wall, allowing it be used as an outdoor theater.

The plans show a soccer field, but no other outdoor sports facilities.

“We can’t be all things to all people,” Taylor explained. “We need to focus on college and career readiness.”

Lee High has posted the student-shot promotional video on its website and plans to post a second video with a virtual tour of the new school: http://lee.ebrschools.org/