New Addition Honors Joliet High School’s Gothic Design

JOLIET, Ill. — Joliet Central High School students are nearing the end of their first semester enjoying a new 43,000-square-foot addition. The building was unveiled at a grand opening celebration earlier this year that drew a standing-room-only crowd of more than 1,500 students, parents, teachers, administrators and elected officials.

The school’s new addition features a three-story glass curtain wall façade that leads into a bright and inviting student center. Beyond that is a spacious, open plan cafeteria that can seat up to 600, giving the school a new venue for events. The space also includes an expansive student center, a dining facility, multi-purpose areas and an elevator to improve ADA accessibility. The focal point of the addition is a soaring tubular steel structure that creates a collaborative space for students to study, socialize and access services.

Designed by Wight & Company and built by Gilbane Building Company, both located in Chicago, the addition officially opened in time for the beginning of the current school semester in January. As the original school was built in 1901 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Kevin Havens, director of design for Wight & Company, explained in a statement that the Wight & Company team wanted to honor the building’s history and its elegance. A portion of the original limestone façade, which features Gothic entrance doors, became part of the new atrium, while the school’s interior still showcases original relief panels, marble wainscoting and decorative cast iron staircases.

"The architecture team envisioned a space that would serve as the heart of the school, connecting the new with the old," Havens said in a statement. "Our atrium design references elements of the Collegiate Gothic style of this landmark building, but does so in a modern way that is light and airy.”

"Our design solution features one of the limestone walls of the existing school and treats it like artwork on the interior of the new structure,” Havens continued. “It’s an approach that is both delicate and grand."

Tom Roth of Wight & Company, who served as project manager and senior designer, said the addition serves as the new front door to the school. "We heard time and again from residents that they see Joliet Central as a beacon for the entire community," explained Roth in a statement. "Our design is a physical manifestation of that idea. At night, the three-story atrium glows like a lantern, making its strong presence known in downtown Joliet."

"This addition is about preparing us for the future, but it was also very important to us that this new building maintained the historic feel and flow of our campus,” said Superintendent Dr. Cheryl McCarthy in a statement. "The design accomplishes both just beautifully. It literally takes your breath away."

Groundbreaking on the project, which was shaped by a significant amount of community input, took place in May 2014. Construction was completed in several phases. Wight served as the designer and architect of record for the project, and also provided structural engineering, MEP engineering, interior design and landscape architecture services.