Unique New Omaha High School Includes YMCA

By SCN Staff

OMAHA, Neb.—Set in the rolling hills of Northwest Omaha, Westview High School, programmed and designed by the team of Perkins&Will and architect of record BCDM Architects, draws inspiration from the natural landscape and the interests of its community.

The simple beige brick and zinc palette of the exterior and its angular educational wings provide a contemporary, yet timeless quality, and the combination of space preparing students for college and career-readiness with a community YMCA sets Westview apart as one of the country’s most distinctive partnerships connecting a school to the broader community.

At Westview, a school, designed from the inside out, the focus is on the central communal spaces and shared experiences of the cafeteria, auditorium, media center, YMCA and gymnasium. The sense of community in these large gathering spaces at the heart of the school is balanced by respect for the small group student learning experience in an array of rooms and nooks that support many types of learning styles. The school is 285,000-square-feet, the YMCA, 30,000-square-feet.

Students and YMCA members enter Westview enter through two separate vestibules located next to each other at a common entry point for security reasons – students moving into a two-story lobby, YMCA members directly into the full-service facility. Arrangements were made early in the planning stage to coordinate access for Westview students to ensure that the YMCA truly is a shared, community facility. Classrooms and labs – key to the district’s focus on establishing career pathways – extend along the linear spines of the building with windows opening to natural light; central along the length of the spine, students can meet in a variety of spaces designed for collaboration.

Overlooking the two-story lobby, which is adjacent to student dining, is an open-concept library with communal space inside leading to a learning stair connecting the two spaces. Throughout the school, bathed in natural light, natural materials of wood and brick add patterning, texture, and rhythm – and a connection to its setting.

The partnership with the YMCA was central to Westview’s planning. While the high school maintains its own athletic facilities, the added efficiency, flexibility, and experiences of sharing a pool, weight room, and more is distinctive. “The Y and the public-school systems are the two largest youth development organizations in our county,” said Chris Tointon, former president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Omaha. “Rather than build one Y and one school and stick them together, we needed to define as many needs as possible and work towards 100% utilization, so we received the biggest benefits of a shared facility. Bringing school leaders, teachers, program directors, and frontline staff to the table early with a shared vision was critical to our success.”

Tointon sees additional benefits for students beyond athletics. “We felt like being connected to where the kids were allowed us to share leadership experiences. The programs could eventually be managed by the teens with mentorship by recreation and fitness professionals.”

Mindful of the region’s vulnerability to weather, the facility is designed to withstand extreme volatility. The black box theatre and locker rooms can double as storm shelters. Windows in those spaces are high-stress treated, and the walls, the roof, and pipes can withstand up to 250 mph winds and rain. Abundant daylight and shared space efficiency add to the school’s sustainability features.

Project Partners:

  • Owner and/or developer: Omaha Public Schools
  • Design architect: Perkins&Will
  • Architect of record: BCDM Architects
  • MEP engineer: Alvine Engineering, (civil Sampson Construction)
  • Structural engineer: Performance Engineering
  • General contractor or construction manager: Sampson Construction