Greater Gentilly High School:
A “Quick Start” for a Strong Future
Following the destruction of one of the nation’s most devastating storms, New Orleans Public Schools is looking to the completion of the new Greater Gentilly High School as a proud symbol of the community’s tenacity, resilience, and vision for future generations. The new 173,000-square-foot building, which will accommodate up to 800 students, was designed on a demanding fast-track basis and will open in early 2010.
VergesRome Architects and Fanning Howey teamed up to design the new building, which will serve as a magnet school with an academic focus on commercial arts, computer science, entertainment production, and education. A flexible floor plan with retractable walls and highly functional classrooms and laboratories will easily accommodate changes in the curriculum and instructional approaches. A state-of-the-art technology program, supported by Apple Computer and following the model of the Napa, California-based New-Tech Foundation, will support the school’s innovative programs. Every student desk will be equipped with a computer.
Employing a streamlined “Quick Start” approach, through which the decision-making, procurement, and review processes were thoroughly expedited, the building will be designed and built in less than two years. The Quick Start initiative was introduced by the state-sponsored Louisiana Recovery School District to help jump-start school construction in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, and in advance of the release of the city’s School Facilities Master Plan.
A three-day charrette involving several community groups helped launch the design effort for the new high school. The project then moved rapidly from schematics to construction documents. The fast-paced process has required a commitment to careful communications between the project team, New Orleans Public Schools, and the Recovery School District, which also provided oversight and support. In addition to the speedy production of design deliverables, the effort has yielded a comprehensive set of standards that will help guide the future construction of district schools.
A Challenging Site
A difficult site also posed challenges to the design team. The 4.1-acre property had once housed a middle school structure that had been immersed in more than ten feet of water following Hurricane Katrina. The building was razed in order to accommodate the new high school, but several restrictions impeded use of the entire site, including the need to preserve several majestic live oaks on the property. The protection of these botanically and culturally significant specimens, along with the need to meet setback requirements, led the design team to devise a creative strategy for a disaster-resistant, multi-level structure on only 2.5 acres of property.
Protecting the Future
The three-level brick building features a wind- and water-resistant design and reflects meticulous mitigation analysis and planning to prepare for future storms and other potential disaster events. Most of the academic spaces and resources are housed on the two upper levels, with the ground level partially reserved for parking. The building has moisture-resistant finishes, wind-resistant galvanized steel roofing, and hurricane impact-resistant window systems. The high school is designed to LEED®-Silver certification standards, with a goal of reducing energy consumption by at least 30 percent. Two former outdoor swimming pools serve as rainwater cisterns, providing water for site irrigation and to supply the wet cooling tower.
The design team also employed a number of successful strategies to control costs. The building is set to be completed at approximately $5 million under budget.