Optimizing Oak Ridge

Modernizing a Traditional High School for the 21st Century

Despite a population exceeding 50,000 during World War II, the city of oak ridge, Tenn., never appeared on a map until 1949. The city was originally built to house the Manhattan project; today it is home to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Y-12 weapons facility. As such, academic excellence for Oak Ridge Schools is essential to attract staff to ORNL and maintain a thriving community.

Recently, this community known for rigorous academic achievement had little to tout in terms of academic facilities. The 1950s-era high school was worn out; its outdated classrooms and athletic facilities contradicted the standard of excellence demanded by Oak Ridge residents.

However, on Aug. 18, 2008, after five years of planning, design and construction, Superintendent Dr. Thomas Bailey joyfully welcomed 1,500 students and guests to Oak Ridge’s new jewel, a renovated $61 million Oak Ridge High School.

The school has been tagged as an award-winning facility by educators around the country. Learning by Design, a publication of the National School Boards Association and American School Board Journal, honored Oak Ridge with a Citation of Excellence Award in the fall of 2008. Learning by Design recognizes the best educational design innovations and strategies each year. The Tennessee School Boards Association also recognized Oak Ridge at its Annual Conference in November 2008.

Defining the Project

Chicago-based Heery International com- pleted a thorough study of each building at Oak Ridge High School and found that while much of the high school was structurally sound, two buildings and a portion of a third needed to be replaced. The buildings particularly at risk housed science classrooms, music rehearsal rooms, the central mechanical room and a second mechanical room.

“The district hired Heery International in 2003 to study the current conditions of our school,” Bailey says. “When I heard the findings, that a section of our school was potentially unsafe, I knew we had to act immediately.”

After reviewing the study results, the district moved forward by defining the project. The process began in fall of 2003 with dozens of community meetings among teachers, students and members of the public offering design ideas for a facility that could accommodate students and the public.

Once the decision was made to proceed with renovations, the district hosted a design competition, drawing architects from around the country. DLR Group, a national design firm with an extensive K-12 education portfolio, teamed with local firm ACHW, and ultimately won the com- petition in August 2004.

Project Team

  • Owner: Oak Ridge High Schools, Oak Ridge, Tenn., oakridge.schoolinsites.com
  • Architects: DLR Group, www.dlrgroup.com, and ACHW, Oak Ridge, Tenn., www.achw.com
  • Program Manager: Heery International, Chicago, www.heery.com

About the Author

Jim French
Jim, AIA,REFP, is a senior principal and the K-12 education leader for DLR Group, a nationally recognized design firm.

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