New 21st Century High School for East Baton Rouge

BATON ROUGE, La. — As school officials like to say, Lee Magnet High School, part of the East Baton Rouge Parish Schools system in Louisiana, is a school like no other. From its approach to learning to its collegiate-styled campus, Lee Magnet High School is poised to become both a showpiece for the district and a launch pad for a new generation of student entrepreneurs.

When the school district’s selection committee named GraceHebert Architects to the Lee Magnet High School project team in 2013, the first priority was identifying the district’s goals for this hallmark institution. Keeping the school’s forward thinking, collaboration-based curriculum in mind, the firm early on integrated students, teachers, board members, community members and alumni into the design process. After numerous roundtable discussions and public town hall meetings, it was determined that the school should be student-centered with a plethora of opportunities for hands-on learning in a facility that was adaptable, flexible and sustainable.

Instead of cramming all grades 9-12 into one standalone facility, the 1,200-student school improves even on the basic STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) approach to learning by offering three, freestanding, 400-student academies and one larger Commons Building on a 250,000-square-foot campus. Each academy is the same in terms of layout and design, but singular in the functions it houses. One academy is devoted to biomedical studies; one to STEM education (with an emphasis on robotics and engineering) and the third houses the school’s digital arts program.

While teaching and learning are largely concentrated in the academies, the shared Commons Building is where students can visit the school nurse, take part in sports programs and attend whole-school events in the gymnasium, which also includes a projection and sound system. The Commons Building also contains elective classrooms as well as music rooms and additional art space. A large pre-function gathering space with terraced seating, booth seating, four-top tables and a lounge area is also included.

At Lee Magnet High School, learning takes place online, in blended learning spaces and in the classrooms. Hence, every space provides an opportunity for formal and/or informal learning. Flexible group workspaces are both large and small, and breakout study and collaboration spaces are built into all circulation areas. Informal seating configurations, conference rooms and “living rooms” throughout the campus are further evidence of the great care taken to address the unique learning needs and preferences of each student.

Flexible WOW! Spaces in each academy are yet another feature that help to reinforce the school’s signature “Like No Other” tagline. These large, tech-ready, student-centered studio spaces are the showpiece of each academy. They are designed to accommodate student-driven projects and presentations as well as those spearheaded by professional and higher education partners.

Both the WOW! Spaces and standard classrooms also anticipate future needs and changing use. They are equipped not only with flexible, moveable furnishings, interactive touch boards, writeable surfaces and ample workspace, but also with additional power and data. Rough-ins above the ceilings contain empty conduits should new projectors or other technology be required in the future. Additionally, key connections were put in place for utilities such as gas, water and electricity should the need arise.

DLR Group of Overland Park, Kan., and educational consultant Victoria Bergsagel of Architects of Achievement, based in Mercer Island, Wash., also brought invaluable experience and knowledge to the project team.

Jerry Hebert is president of Baton Rouge, La.-based GraceHebert.
David Hebert is a principal with GraceHebert.

Read more about Lee Magnet High School in the May issue of School Construction News, available soon.