Wight & Company recently celebrated the completion of a large-scale, multi-phase replacement project on the main campus of New Trier High School District 203 in Chicago’s northern suburbs. The new structure replaces three aging and inefficient buildings that had been added over the years to meet the needs of the 117-year-old district, which serves approximately 4,000 students. The 275,000-square-foot new addition almost doubles the amount of usable space within the same footprint.
Wight’s involvement began in 2013 when the firm was asked to participate in a design competition to re-imagine the flagship campus for one of the nation’s most highly acclaimed public schools. At the heart of Wight’s vision was a five-story concourse that floods the building with daylight and provides connection between the historic old school and the modern addition via pedestrian bridges at each level. Linda Yonke, who served as New Trier’s superintendent throughout the multi-year project, described Wight’s winning solution as “an exceptional blending of old and new.”
Kevin Havens, executive vice president/director of design led the Wight team as they provided architectural and engineering services. Other key members of Wight’s design team were project manager David Powell, interiors specialist Wendy Watts, project architect Brandon Spoehr, and Jim Smiley for field observation. Havens describes the approach as “a balancing act,” as they sought to deliver a forward-looking solution on a campus that hadn’t been significantly altered in 60 years.
“New Trier is a venerated institution in the community, with an exterior of red brick and cast terra cotta,” said Havens. “The school sits within an established neighborhood of historic homes, so we knew our design couldn’t turn its back on tradition. Rather, we tried to set the stage for the next chapter in New Trier’s story by blending a traditional exterior expression with a modern and transparent educational environment that puts learning on display.”
Wight’s planning and design work helped the district win voter support for a referendum that provided most of the funding for the $103 million project. “The Winnetka Campus Construction and Renovation Project” officially launched with a groundbreaking ceremony in spring 2015.
The architecture firm worked closely with Pepper Construction to bring the vision to life. The firms developed a complex construction schedule to guide the work. Key among the district’s requirements were ensuring the safety of students and allowing the school to offer its full program of classes and extracurricular activities throughout the multi-year construction process.
“This project has been an example of true partnership since its inception,” said Pepper’s executive vice president Scot Pepper. “From working closely with the school to enable the referendum, to working hand-in-hand with Wight and the school during preconstruction to ensure the vision aligned with the budget, to effectively managing the schedule so that students and neighbors were able to continue their normal activities during construction. This has been an exemplary project, and we’re proud to have been part of it. It has been an honor taking this nationally recognized school into their next 100 years of excellence.”
During phase one, the school’s 1931 Tech Arts building was demolished, and the first section of the multi-level addition was constructed. This new wing of the addition includes a new student cafeteria, library, culinary lab and applied arts and art classrooms, and is topped off with a green roof and outdoor terraces.
During phase two, which began in mid-2016, the 1912 cafeteria and 1950 music building were demolished. In their place, Wight and Pepper completed the massive addition, adding new science labs, intradisciplinary classrooms, AV/multimedia labs, music rehearsal spaces, arts studios, two theatres and an art gallery. Overall, the addition includes 29 new academic classrooms and a broad array of flexible spaces that foster creativity, collaboration and student exploration.
The “new” New Trier features a number of unique spaces, including interconnected visual arts studios, innovative applied arts/maker spaces, a black box drama theatre, a “culinary court” with a hands-on food lab, a help desk modeled after Apple’s “Genius Bar,” instrumental and choral rehearsal facilities and a dramatic gathering stair that seamlessly transitions between the ground floor cafeteria and the library commons directly above.
New Trier superintendent Paul Sally applauded the dramatic transformation of the campus. “Wight & Company’s design includes some wonderful iconic features and incorporates many of the best practices in modern educational building design,” he said. “Their innovative design solution has vastly improved the student experience.”
Wight served as design architect and architect of record on the New Trier project. In addition, Wight provided interior design and structural, civil and MEP engineering services. Other key partners on the project included Schuler Shook Theatre Planners/Lighting Designers, Threshold Acoustics and Pamela Self Landscape Design.