Saint Martin de Porres High School is a Catholic coeducational school located in the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood serving a regional student population exclusively from families of limited economic means.
The school undertook the design and construction of a new facility as part of a dynamic project-based curriculum designed to prepare their students for a work environment where critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication are the keys to success. Saint Martin has established partnerships with the greater Cleveland business community as a means to provide tuition to their students, but also to support their values to “Work, Study, Serve, Lead, Pray”.
The first ten years of operation occurred in the former St. Vitas grade school and two temporary trailers. Despite the limitations of these environments, the students thrived. These spaces however, challenged the ability of administration and teachers to truly implement a project-based curriculum and limited students’ opportunities to think in depth or actively apply learning to build knowledge. What was required was adequate instruction and support spaces where, instead of a lecture-based format, teachers became facilitators, leading students through a learning process where they engage in thinking, problem solving, making, leadership, collaboration, and project-based learning.
The new 44,000 SF facility is the first of a two-phased $30 million investment in the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood and represents the first new school building constructed in this community in over 100 years. An important design feature of the project is the preservation and restoration of the landmarked 1910 Kausek Brothers Department Store (affectionately known as The Coppertop). The new building is set back from the face of Coppertop and wraps a glass façade around the building allowing it to sit like a jewel against the glass backdrop of the new building.
Entering on the ground floor, students are presented with a large warping informal seating area and an open three-story glass and steel staircase. The stair establishes a datum in the building, orienting students, visually connecting all floors of the building and providing a vibrant gathering and waiting area
Students are greeted upon entering the building at a custom reception desk and welcomed to the Commons – a bright, open flexible space for eating, gathering and presentations. The goal for this space is to create a place that allows the entire student body to meet for discussions and lectures. Seating consists of easily movable tables and brightly colored chairs as well as booths along the windows – a prized seating place that students race to get to first.
The educational spaces are on the second and third floors with each level providing 5 classrooms surrounding a Learning Commons that provides the opportunity for flexible learning zones focused on critical thinking, collaboration, and communication. The arrangement of classrooms supports a project-based learning curriculum – as project energy expands, overhead garage doors allow students and projects to spill out into the commons. A humanities project that combines language and history classes would have adequate room for the development of concept and idea. Small group study rooms are used for tutoring and peer to peer learning, increasing the flexibility and options for the students.
Nature is an important partner in the design and development of the project. Large windows ensure the students have views of the downtown skyline and Lake Erie and are connected to the rhythms and cycles of their day. The school was concerned about their place in the community and community partnerships. Particularly important to the school is the concept of demonstrated learning – the ability of the community to see the excitement of the students and see them engaged in active learning activities. Art and Music classrooms are on street level, allowing the community direct views of the students’ activity.
Key to the design is exposing the building structure and systems to the students so that they can better understand how the building works and to allow them to engage these systems. The chemistry and biology classrooms are placed adjacent to the Coppertop building which provides a connection to the past and allows for discussions about oxidation and corrosion, providing real world examples to the subjects being studied.
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Image Source: Kevin G Reeves Photography