Superintendent Phil Long of Medford School District in Oregon wanted to incorporate a sense of community when the district replaced the outdated 1930s-era South Medford High School.

Mahlum Architects of Portland delivered with plans for an $82-million, 225,000-sq-ft, energy-efficient campus with 48 classrooms, 10 science rooms, 2,000-seat gym and modern theater.

“It is a people-friendly building,” Long says of the new structure. “It’s flexible enough that if we change programming in the future, the physical spaces can accommodate new uses.”

The 20-acre instructional campus is broken into four small learning communities, with a pair of two-story wings centered around a 10,000-sq-ft central courtyard that will act as the heart of the campus.

Gerald “Butch” Reifert, Mahlum managing partner, says designers needed to make the large campus feel intimate. The solution was to fill it will natural light.

Glazed skylights and windows stream through the roof and walls, through cutouts in the floor so virtually no artificial light is needed in any of the rooms during the day. Besides reducing operating costs, the windows give the buildings a sense of transparency, Reifert says.

He adds that tests have shown that natural light enhances learning, health and teacher morale.

To ensure the Oregon sun would behave as predicted, Mahlum created scale models of the building and tested them on a solar simulator during different times of day each season.

Keeping with the intimate theme, instead of duplicating the 800-seat theater at North Medford High School, Mahlum designed a small, black box-style theater for South Medford that was more flexible, but with modern, lighting and sound technology. It seats 450, but the lower level can be shifted to make room for dinner theater events, dance performances or town hall meetings.

“It gives the district a different kind of performing venue,” Reifert says.

The campus is built on a site with a slight slope that includes about 10 acres of wetland and a high water table, so design and scheduling had to accommodate those realities if expensive and time-consuming grading was to be avoided. “We integrated the building into the topography with buildings stepping down to the library,” Reifert explains.

Preserving the slope and building a storm water retention basin also helped manage water flow.

Key Players

Owner: Medford School District

Architect: Mahlum

Architectural Consultant: Architectural Design Works

Construction Manager: Hogan & Associates Construction Inc.

Project Manager: DayCPM Services

Engineers: Dew Engineering Inc.; Coughlin Porter Lundeen; Hardey Engineering & Associates; Interface Engineering

Environmental Consulting: PBS Engineering + Environmental

Even though scheduling had to be staged carefully so no construction occurred in wetlands until mitigation offsets were approved, the school had to be ready when students arrive in the fall.

“When the buses pull up on the first day of school, students need a place to go,” says Aaron Metcalfe, chief marketing officer for construction manager Hogan and Associates Construction Inc. of Centerville, Utah.

Because prices for materials were so much lower when the district went to bid than when it was estimated, the budget accommodated build-out of all the athletic fields, tennis courts and track with synthetic turf fields for year-round play. “We thought we were going to have to wait on construction of the fields so it worked out nicely,” Long says.

When students move to the new South Medford, the old space will be renovated along with the other schools in the district. Old South Medford High will serve as a district center and alternative school.

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