Designing for Safety & Inclusion at St. Helens School District

Posted in News — March 26, 2018

SHMS Rendering 02
St. Helens Middle School Courtyard

How can we design safe schools to keep our students protected, while also fostering a sense of belonging and inclusion? Principal Marlene Gillis and Associate Andy Bonesz recently talked to the Business Tribune about how we’re addressing these critical questions in our projects for St. Helens School District.

Bonesz said a beautiful facility is a protective strategy, making it less likely for school shooting-type incidents to occur because good design helps with students’ happiness.

“With recent events we’ve taken a big focus on that,” Bonesz said. “One of the main strategies we use is a big focus on controlling who’s coming in to the school by making sure we have sightlines for the approach. That’s handled from the main office area where we’ve got the reception and front area of the school.”

The clear sightlines will give the new office a view of anyone coming up the main drive, and it will have a secured vestibule with auto-door locks before people can check in.

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Columbia County Education Campus Entry Plaza

One of the schools, the Columbia County Education Campus (CCEC) is a 10,000 SF alternate high school which will replace a group of temporarily trailer classrooms.

“For us, the CCEC is something where that building is what those students deserve, but haven’t gotten for a long time. That to me is really exciting and special,” Gillis said, and with the financial support from the school district and community, “The district is willing to put in what it needed, so its cost per square foot is more than the middle school when you look at it, but they’re still willing to say these students are important, this is an important population for us and we’re going to make this building special for them.”

The high school has six well-lit classrooms, because Bonesz said his research shows natural light in a classroom increases test scores.

“Up front we have this really nice, well-lit, multipurpose common room with a (small) kitchen that has the ability to have events with food for the community to use in the off-hours, evenings and weekends,” Gillis said.

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St. Helens Middle School Main Entry

The other school, St. Helens Middle School, will be 103,000 SF and will bring the sixth, seventh, and eighth grade levels together into one new facility.

To read more about the new schools, check out the Business Tribune article below.