KCBA is leading the planning and design for this major urban redevelopment project in the City of Altoona. The existing Altoona Area High School is a 395,000 sq. ft. facility that serves a student population of roughly 1,650 in grades 10-12. The complex consists of two discrete buildings that take up two city blocks and are linked via a series of suspended enclosed pedestrian bridges – the “A” Building which was constructed in 1972 and houses the gym, natatorium, and classrooms and the “B” Building which was built in 1927 and contains classrooms, an auditorium, and the district offices.
Beyond typical maintenance and operational challenges of a school complex of this vintage, the existing high school presents many impediments to the school district’s delivery of their 21st century educational program including undersized classrooms, limited technological infrastructure, and inadequate spaces to support collaborative and project-based learning. In addition, the district has overcapacity issues at all grade levels and was interested in exploring the potential introduction of 9th grade into the high school to open up additional space for the K-8 grades.
In order to upgrade the complex to meet the district’s long-term educational and operational plans, KCBA investigated a number of potential renovation, reconstruction, and new construction scenarios. All potential approaches were greatly influenced by existing physical limitations such as the high school’s tight urban context, challenging topography including a heavy slope, and very limited space to accommodate a building expansion as well as the need to maintain ongoing school operations at the complex during construction.
The scheme that was eventually developed and selected for implementation entails the closure of the “B” building and conversion of that property to athletic fields; construction of a major new structure to house all of the “B” building functions as well as additional classrooms and learning commons; renovation of the existing “A” building including all new building systems, technology, educational equipment, and interior finishes; an addition to the “A” building that will include a new fitness/dance center and cooking labs; a new pedestrian bridge over 6th Avenue to connect the two high school buildings; and a new pedestrian bridge over 7th Avenue to link the high school with the existing junior high building.
The new 440,000 sq. ft. high school complex will accommodate 2,400 students including 9th graders. A selection of innovative program spaces in the new “B” building include a performance theater; art classrooms; a business center; STEM maker spaces; two commons, one for STEM and the other for arts and business; an outdoor classroom; a work yard; and a rooftop greenhouse.
In addition to establishing a state-of-the-art educational environment to serve future generations of Altoona Area students, the renewed high school will serve as an important center for community life and catalyst for the continued revitalization of the City of Altoona.