Few people know the educational challenges a building like Middletown High School presents quite like Brooklyn Poff.
Poff has spent four years in the building, and she’s seen the school become increasingly crowded, and class sizes get larger.
So when the senior, who splits her time between Middletown and the Career and Technology Center, and a team of fellow students in the computer-aided design-architecture class at CTC were faced with a project to redesign a learning space, the choice of space was obvious.
Poff served as the project manager and presentation team leader on a team with five other students — Alex Repass, Bobby Wilson, Josh Klein, Nina Crosby and Joe Kincaid — on a project that redesigned Middletown High, earning national recognition in the process.
Their design project earned the team a special recognition for an inaugural high school program at the SchoolsNEXT competition at LearningSCAPES — the Association for Learning Environments’ national conference.
“The trip to Atlanta was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had,” Poff said. “The conference had a tremendous impact on my overall outlook as a future architect, and I would really enjoy going into the K-12 design sector within architecture.”
Poff said the CAD-Architecture class has helped her become one of 40 students to be accepted into the University of Tennessee Knoxville’s Interior Architecture program.
The team wanted the project to be realistic, so the renovation of Middletown made even more sense. Middletown, after Frederick High, is the next high school slated to be modernized or renovated.
Poff and her teammates created a complete, 21st-century modernization of the 43-year-old school, adding natural lighting, a bio-retention pond, permeable pavement and a sports center to serve concessions for baseball, softball, and field hockey games, which have never had access to concessions.
The team’s project had an estimated budget of about $85 million, substantially less than the full replacement of Frederick High School.
Poff said an important part of the school redesign was creating spaces for creativity and collaboration. The aim was to turn an older, stagnant learning environment into a place for 21st-century education.
The design incorporated outdoor spaces, including a cafeteria patio, where students could dine outside. College and career fairs could also be held outside there, Poff said. In addition, it included a patio outside the library where students could go to work on projects, study or just relax.
Middletown is currently at 98 percent capacity, so increasing the footprint of the building was a necessity. There is little space for expansion, so the team added a second floor in select areas of the school.
The challenge came in organizing the work spaces.
“My team and I felt that Middletown’s current organization of classrooms and other educational spaces didn’t really maximize the space given, and it was hard to reimagine those spaces at first,” Poff said. “We didn’t want to completely demolish Middletown, seeing as Middletown is scheduled for renovation as opposed to a demolition and new build school. And reconceptualizing the current interior proved to be quite challenging in terms of retrofitting it to match the new wing that my team and I added onto the school.”
Poff’s team included a virtual reality presentation of their school experience. They also created a video interviewing several students asking what they would like to see in a redesigned or modernized school.
“These promising young designers demonstrated their ability to rethink education, inspire change and create meaningful learning experiences for Middletown students,” a review of the project said on the LearningSCAPES website.
The team presented to the Board of Education last week, where they answered questions from several board members about the future of K-12 school designs.
Poff said she thinks it’s important for kids to be included in redesign projects because they’re the ones who have to use the building.
“I think that all architects in the educational architecture realm should communicate with students, asking them what they really need, and base the design off of that,” Poff said. “It is easy to create a building that looks nice, but to create a building that serves the people who inhabit it is easier said than done. I can say confidently that my team and I found success with the latter.”