New Tech High School
St. Cloud’s New Tech High School is rooted in connections. The building is connected to its site. The present is connected to the past. Technical education is connected to academics. Students are connected to themselves, their learning, and each other.
Through these connections, designers were able to transform traditional learning spaces into flexible learning environments that support a variety of teaching and learning needs. Divided into six learning communities featuring a combination of flexible learning spaces, group collaborative spaces, project and science labs, and collaborative teaching spaces, the new Tech School fosters an environment that meets both the physical and social-emotional needs of its students while preparing them for success in a technological, global society.
From the very moment students arrive on campus, the line between the built environment and the surrounding natural area is blurred, both literally and figuratively. The school’s footprint is designed so that students and visitors must drive through the woodland landscape, progressing through trees and across a creek, before arriving at the building’s main entrance. This short journey creates a liminal space wherein the school and its surrounding environment are joined, intentionally disconnecting students from the adjacent residential and commercial areas. The site is bound on the north by protected woodlands through which runs a trout stream and a natural city park to the east.
The site — a cross section of woodland and wetland areas and farmland — necessitated that the new school consciously respond to its surrounding natural features in a holistic way. This becomes especially apparent as students and visitors move throughout the space, as learning neighborhoods are positioned to the north of the site, pushing them up against the forest and providing access to serene views and generous amounts of northern light.
This porosity is mirrored by the main student commons, which is dominated by a full, east-facing glass wall. This bold feature allows the early morning sun to penetrate deep within the space, greeting students each day with a welcoming, natural light. In other areas of the school, daylighting is more curated. By providing both direct and indirect light sources, designers created a dynamic lighting system that mimics the patterns and rhythms found in nature.
Neenah Creek, a protected trout stream, runs through the north end of the site and all storm water is infiltrated on site through an extensive use of rain gardens, native landscaping and permeable pavers. One hundred percent of the storm water is managed on the site, filtering it through these systems to treat it and regulate the temperature to match the temperature of the stream. Studies were also conducted which identified that the site also contains the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee, Northern Long-eared Bat and Blanding’s Turtle — all of which were (and still are) protected species.
The school is also symbolically connected to the greater St. Cloud community. The most visible of these connections is the building’s granite façade, a nod to St. Cloud’s identity as “The Granite City.” All granite used on the building’s exterior was excavated from a local quarry, just 10 miles away from the site. Additionally, interior designers used a color palette that reflected St. Cloud’s collective history: hues of deep charcoal and rust pay homage to the city’s roots in the granite industry, while angled intersections of metal, stone, and wood evoke the train tracks that were vital in connecting St. Cloud to the industrial east coast.