Ron Meyers imagined a school facility that matched Wahlert’s high academic standards. It felt far off for the high school principal in the face of constant challenges with accessibility, limited space and lack of appropriate lighting, heating, cooling and air circulation.
Some classrooms would dip in temperature, making students and staff pile on layers while other classrooms would be too warm. It led school leaders to shape class schedules around heating and cooling issues of rooms. “If the class required a high level of thinking or was a larger class (of more than 10 students), we’d avoid those rooms,” Meyers said.
With the community’s support, Holy Family Catholic Schools partnered with IIW to direct and design the renovation of Wahlert Catholic High School, which had been largely unchanged since its original construction in 1957.
“The school’s core steel frame was in good shape and allowed us a lot of flexibility to update the design to meet the school’s goals and learning needs,” said David Leapaldt, lead designer for the project. “We felt Wahlert’s passion for excellence in education during the facility tour. The goal was to deliver spaces that were reflective of this.”
Working alongside school administration, teachers and other staff, the IIW team developed a plan to replace a series of outdated and underperforming systems while opening up the building to introduce more light and views, and infusing new technology into the science labs and throughout the school to support 1:1 computing.
“There are a lot of little details that our teachers really appreciate,” Meyers said. IIW’s constant creativity brought energy and more possibilities to the project, he said. “The most important thing is they listened and allowed us to decide what we wanted. IIW helped us manage our budget and make good choices.”
School leaders had held off on pursuing new educational ideas with personalized learning and collaboration between the middle and high schools because of the facility.
In the renovated facility, Wahlert transformed its media center space into maker spaces where students can explore 3D printing, produce videos and create their own t-shirts and other textile art. “
It’s almost like the sky’s the limit for our engineering and industrial science programs,” Meyers said. Students can access the spaces throughout the day, not just during designated classroom time.
IMPACT OF LIGHTING
Sometimes it can be the simplest upgrades that make the biggest difference. For Wahlert staff and students, it was lighting. “The very first thing people notice is the change in the lighting,” Meyers said. “Students thought we made the labs larger. They thought we moved the walls but we just lit them better.”
With a new glass backdrop to the outdoors, IIW designed a new lunch area with a variety of free-flowing serving spaces that give students quicker access to food. “We get students through lunch lines much faster than we did before,” Meyers said.
A SCHOOL SIGNATURE
When re-designing the central staircase to improve traffic flow, draw in light and provide collaboration spaces, the IIW team also identified opportunities to showcase the school’s commitment to faith. A sign of the cross illuminated with glass and natural light has become a focal point for compliments on school tours.
“There were a lot of creative ideas to let natural light in and make it a functional space without overdoing it,” Meyers said. “It’s becoming a place for community. Students want to go there and they are really taking care of it.”
IIW shaped a multi-phased timeline around the school’s calendar and timeline to deliver a finished product in a timely manner without compromising educational needs.
“In retrospect, it doesn’t even feel like the project happened in terms of logistics,” Meyers said. “It felt fast because it was so smooth. IIW worked really well with our staff and communicated well throughout. Would I do it again? Absolutely.”
Holy Family Catholic Schools partnered with IIW to direct and design the renovation of Wahlert Catholic High School that had been largely unchanged since its original construction in 1957. Here’s a look at some of the project highlights:
- Lighting: Updates to the floor plan let in more natural light and new electrical systems allow for LED lighting in the classrooms and throughout the building to offer a more comfortable environment for learning.
- Maker spaces: A new design moves the library books into a smaller space and transformed the media center into maker spaces where students can explore 3D printing, video production and textile art.
- Cafeteria and Café: With a new glass backdrop to the outdoors, the remodeled lunch area provides a variety of free-flowing serving spaces that give students quicker access to food. Students and staff gained additional amenities with a new kitchen and inviting café to grab a bite to eat or sip on a beverage while studying. Opening up the corridor wall with glass to provide a view into the cafeteria area and then outside really expanded the feel of the space.
- Technology: Added a strong technology backbone behind the scenes to support the school’s 1:1 computing model and 21stcentury learning needs.
- Flexibility: Designed each science classroom with flexibility to serve as a lab or lecture space for each science discipline.
- Systems: Replaced roof, elevator and mechanical and electrical systems. New heating, ventilating and dehumidification systems provide comfort and improved indoor air quality throughout the building.