Harriton High School Prepares to Open

The Lower Merion School District is preparing to welcome the first class of students to the new Harriton High School on September 8th. Designed by KCBA Architects, the 328,000 square foot building features a wide variety of spaces to accommodate the breadth of the School District’s curriculum and is on target to receive LEED Gold Certification.

Located on a tight 50-acre site that contains the existing high school (a collection of nine free-standing buildings) and associated parking and athletic facilities, one of the project’s primary challenges was to maintain safe and seamless operation of the academic program through the construction and site restoration. KCBA and the School District’s construction manager devised a carefully orchestrated strategy that involved six discrete phases over four years. A number of measures were taken to maximize available space such as conversion of the stadium’s field from grass to artificial turf to provide a more consistent and drainable playing surface capable of supporting heavier use. Another playfield was temporarily converted for staff and student parking during the construction phase and employed porous asphalt paving for enhanced stormwater management.


The new school features a diverse array of learning, activity, and support spaces to accommodate the enrollment of 1,250 students. In addition to the general purpose classrooms, science laboratories, art classrooms, and music rehearsal spaces typically found in a high school, Harriton also features a lecture hall with tiered seating to help prepare students for the college environment, a black box theater to be utilized by several departments as well as the drama program, and a lofty, glass-encased library that serves as the building’s exterior focal point and interior anchor.

The original Harriton High School, designed by Vincent Kling and completed in 1957, was built in what has become known as the “California Style” as it initially consisted of four distinct buildings connected by a series of covered walkways with a paved central courtyard. Mindful of the community’s fondness for this unique outdoor space, KCBA included a secure, landscaped courtyard as a central component of the new building design. The butterfly roof over the second floor library and buff masonry exterior walls with white accents also evoke the forms and materials of the original high school. Several other features have been carried over into the new building as sustainable design strategies such as proper orientation of the classroom wings, broad expanses of glazing in the classrooms, and shading devices on the south-facing glass to take maximum advantage of daylighting opportunities.


The new high school reflects the School District’s commitment to sustainability and energy efficiency. The site features several innovative stormwater management strategies including bio-infiltration swales in the parking lot to collect and treat rainwater for recharge into the ground and an underground storage tank which takes water from the roof and recycles it in the building as gray water to flush toilets. To build upon the facility’s careful placement and orientation, daylight harvesting is employed to reduce electricity use and the cooling load on mechanical equipment. Light fixtures, mechanical equipment, and controls were carefully selected to provide a healthy learning environment which uses less energy and water than the original – and smaller – high school.

This project is one of two new high schools concurrently designed by KCBA for the Lower Merion School District. The new 330,000 square foot Lower Merion High School is also under construction and on schedule to open for the 2010-2011 academic year. Following occupancy of the new Harriton High School, demolition of the existing buildings will take place and the site’s athletic fields, student parking lots, and final landscaping will be installed with final completion scheduled for spring 2011.