ALBUQUERQUE, NM, April 16, 2012 — Atrisco Heritage Academy High School, recipient of several design awards including the Grand Prize Winner of the National School Boards Association (NSBA) Exhibition of School Architecture in 2009, completed its final phase of construction early. In Phase III, the senior classroom building was completed three months ahead of schedule and turned over for occupancy on April 2, and the Performing Arts Center, to open in May, is a month ahead of schedule.
Opened four years ago with the 9th Grade Academy built in Phase I, the state-of-the-art new school has expanded yearly with the addition of a grade level and more facilities, most constructed in Phase II. Its first senior class will graduate in May. ''Early construction was stalled due to unforeseen typography and other issues so we’re quite pleased to deliver the senior classroom building and Performing Arts Center early,'' said Karen Alarid, Director of Facilities Design + Construction (FD+C) for APS.
Built by McCarthy NM, Phase III construction occurred with the school fully occupied. ''McCarthy did a commendable job of keeping construction activity and materials delivery separated from students,'' said Alarid. ''Students and construction never intersected and no complaints were received.'' McCarthy worked closely with the principal, FD+C, school security, and subcontractors in working around student needs and learning. Any work that had the potential for disrupting the education process occurred during the weekend or in the evening, outside of school hours.
The 450 seat Performing Arts Center includes a below grade orchestra pit, 4,000 square foot stage area, a pre-function foyer and art display area, superior acoustics, and learning space. ''The design team used economical building materials in creating a high level performing arts center on a realistic budget,'' said Mark Snider of McCarthy. ''The extent of their creativity was quite remarkable.'' The senior classroom building utilized the value engineering method to reduce costs without sacrificing functionality. More stucco and less metal panel was incorporated to maintain the same level of natural lighting. Windows were not reduced in the value engineering process.
The academically progressive school is leading the nation in the design of Small Learning Communities (150 students / five teacher teams that remain intact from tenth grade through graduation) school facilities and distinctive college prep curriculum. Designed by Fanning Bard Tatum Architects, Atrisco Heritage Academy represents a big step forward in the development of 21st Century schools according to the NSBA. Its curriculum, based on chosen academies (subject tracks), provides for a focused learning process along with an integration of course work that offers insight into many career choices. Academies and their learning spaces designed to authenticate and reinforce learning include Film and Technology, Law and Public Policy, Health Sciences, International Business and Language, Culinary Arts, and Fine Arts. Course work within these academic tracks prepare students for higher education and include advanced math and science not offered in other New Mexico public high schools. Students study law and hold mock court in a courtroom; study finance and work in an actual operational credit union located on the campus; learn culinary arts in a commercially equipped teaching kitchen; and study various areas of health sciences in the academy that includes a dental lab. Students in the ROTC program practice on an official and safe shooting range.
Curriculum is supported by interdisciplinary instruction and encourages understanding of all subject areas and the flexibility to change academies and still graduate on schedule. ''The school is an academic gold mine that guides students in finding their unique gifts,'' said Principal Karen Sanchez-Griego. ''They experience what it’s like to be in college and have a career.''
Designed and built as a ''community school,'' the concept holistically incorporates ''community in education.'' The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center (UNMHSC) is involved in the Health Sciences Academy and mentors students who work at UNMHSC. Students in all academies are involved in community service projects and internships throughout Albuquerque businesses and organizations. ''We strive for a higher level of education and preparation for college,'' said Sanchez-Griego. ''Every single senior is assisted by a counselor with their college plans and applications; approximately 80 percent took the ACT test last year.''
The community school’s many unique features also provide invaluable services and needs to the area residents. The school’s black box theatre with flexible indoor and outdoor presentation space; Performing Arts Center; Community Library with a 32 station computer lab; Community Center that includes meeting space; and numerous indoor and outdoor common areas are available for public use. Public and student zones are strategically segregated with no interaction during school hours or disruption to the learning process. The dedicated school bus loop, student drop-off and pick-up lanes, and clear and easy access to public use buildings prevent co-mingling of traffic. ''I learned that schools can under-utilize facilities but when we collaborate with designers and community, we get highly beneficial multi-use space out of our schools,'' said Sanchez-Griego.
While the inventive school is officially completed, it will be expanded and offer more to the student population and community. Its flexible design enables the addition and change of academies and a Community Health Center is in the planning process. A project under the direction of UNMHSC, Atrisco Heritage Academy students will participate in the operation of the Community Health Center that will include a clinic and provide medical services to the public. It is expected to be completed and open before the end of the year.