Creating a vibrant future from a design of the past
Built in the 1970s, Portage High School was innovative for its time.
Envisioned as a replacement for small classrooms, the northwest Indiana school was designed to encourage student interaction in a less formal environment. But the reality of the open classroom proved to be more distraction than collaboration.
For years, the district wanted to return to enclosed classrooms, and even trying an array of semi-permanent walls. Ultimately, a better solution was sought.
Dr. Michael Stephens, assistant superintendent, Portage School District
We had the opportunity to dramatically redesign the outdated area of the building and were given the challenge to find the best options in education.
Officials traveled the Midwest, researching best designs and practices at schools and businesses. After gathering ideas from successful projects, the district gravitated toward designs for flexible classroom arrangements and sizes to support distinct student areas.
Administrators worked in concert with Alliance Architects to redesign more than 50,000 square feet of space as part of a $7 million investment in the building.
“In the old open-concept environment, you found unwanted collaboration because of spillover noise,” said Mark Leblang, principal at Alliance Architects in South Bend, Indiana. “We provided a design solution that offered new opportunities for students to come together to solve problems, work as teams and use their collaboration skills.”
The reimagined space is divided into four learning communities that include 24 multipurpose classrooms, two science labs and four makerspaces. There is common area for students to congregate, collaborative learning spaces and teacher-specific collaboration areas. Each community houses 350 students during the school day.
This new design creates flexible classroom configurations that can narrow the distance between teaching and learning—literally and figuratively. Nearly a quarter mile from one end of the building to the other, the revised design provides school officials the option to create student learning communities.
Mark Leblang, principal, Alliance ArchitectsFurnishings became an important and comprehensive element of the design. We wanted them to be reconfigurable, allowing for connection and interaction on whatever scale student projects warranted.
Innovative education in steel country
Located in the middle of Indiana steel country, Portage High School provides students access to modern learning, letting them see that their potential is not limited by geography.
Students are equipped with tablets, digital text books and other electronic learning materials. Large-screen televisions, 3-D printers, and new furniture usher in a revamped approach to the space.
Industrial-themed makerspaces feature visible ductwork and exposed plumbing to spark student curiosity and interest in how things work. High-tech to no-tech tools encourage hands-on learning, creativity, teamwork and innovation.
Serving as a hub for collaboration and ingenuity, Portage High School once again leads the way for educators with its contemporary design.