flexiblefullpage -
billboard - default
interstitial1 - interstitial
catfish1 - bottom
Currently Reading

The revival of single-building K-12 schools

K-12 Schools

The revival of single-building K-12 schools

Schools that combine grades PK through 12 are suddenly not so uncommon. Education sector experts explain why. 

By John Caulfield, Senior Editor | May 22, 2023
The revival of single-building schools Walsh PK-12 Main Entry
The Walsh School District in Colorado recently began construction on a 60,000-sf PreK-12 school, which will include updated learning environments, a library, vocational and agricultural workshops, competition and auxiliary gyms, and a stage for presentations and large events. The building team on the project includes Wold Architects and Engineers, Diversified Consulting Services (owner’s rep), and GH Phipps Construction. Rendering: Wold Architects and Engineers

In late March, Walsh School District in rural Colorado started construction on a 60,000-sf school that, when completed in the spring of 2024, will teach students in grades Pre-K through 12 under one roof.

In Georgia, the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System (SCCPSS) is wrapping up construction on a 410,000-sf K-12 multi-school project in Garden City, near Savannah, that will enroll about 2,400 students.

While corralling elementary, middle, and high school students in one building isn’t unheard of, it’s still more the exception than the rule, and controversial as news about bullying in schools has become more frequent. “If anything, more schools are separating grade levels,” observes Chris Greer, Henderson Engineers’ K-12 Education Practice Director.

A few years ago, JCJ Architecture designed a one-building K-12 school for a district in Rochester, N.Y. But, says Jim LaPosta, the firm’s Chief Architectural Officer, the prevailing single-building model remains K-8. 

However, that could be changing. The general contractor Barton Malow has been working with the Kresge Foundation and the University of Michigan to build PK-16 schools in Detroit. (At least one is under construction, says Mike Stobak, the firm’s Vice President of its K-12 Group.)

The Savannah K-12 school is part of a larger trend toward school building consolidation, in Georgia and other states, asserts David Hamilton, Vice President and Regional Manager for Charles Perry Partners, the general contractor on the Garden City project, whose “all-in” cost is $135 million, according to Dr. Slade Helmly, SCCPSS’s project manager. 

Phase 1 of this project, which will be completed this summer, includes two gyms, two cafeterias, and a common kitchen. The school will feature a digital media lab, career and technical education programs for aviation, logistics, and business, a two-story, 750-seat auditorium, and a parking lot with at least 660 spaces. Phase 2 went out for bid in May, says Helmly, and encompasses a fieldhouse and stadium, and campus police department. (The old police station had been on this site, as was Gross High School, both of which were demolished.)

A 50-kW solar array on the new building’s roof will supply one-third of the school’s energy needs.

Addressing security concerns in single-building K-12 schools 

Vaughn Dierks, a Partner with Wold Architects & Engineers, which is the Project Architect on the Walsh School District’s PreK-12 school, says that having students of all grades in one building isn’t that big of a deal for this mountain community, where “the kids ride the same bus together, and the older kids look after the younger ones.”

Hamilton thinks that SCCPSS and LS3P Associates—which designed the Garden City school and hired the engineers and contractor for the building team—did a good job separating the lower and upper grades via glass partitions and access-control doors.

April Mundy and Lisa Pinyan, LS3P’s Project Architect and Senior Project Manager/Interior Designer, tell BD+C that their firm designed this campus as three buildings—a primary, middle, and high school—that “share a few common walls.” Administration and student services are strategically located in multiple locations throughout the building, which helps to delineate zones, supervision, and security.

The revival of single-building schools K8 LIBRARY LS3P.jpeg

The revival of single-building schools SCCPSS
The Savannah-Chatham County Public School System in Georgia is close to completing a 410,000-sf K-12 complex that will have elementary, middle, and high school classrooms under one roof. The school district has positioned this 
ambitious project as reinforcing the local community. Graphics: LS3P Associates

The idea behind the single-building K-12 school, they explain, is rooted in three basic tenets:

• Improving the educational experience by allowing the administration to adjust classroom grade assignments as enrollment ebbs and flows each year. This environment should also enhance professional development and cross collaboration, and provide more varied learning to students;

• Sharing common core programs and spaces that include specialized arts and performance venues, career education, athletics, and food services; and

• Improving security and operations with centralized systems, so infrastructure can be more efficient by serving a larger student population. Each phase of the building’s design followed Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) principles. 

Mundy and Pinyan add that by having the grades together, “we’re able to create a hub and city center for local families to drop off and pick up their children. The goal is for this school to be a catalyst to build a strong community.”

Will single-building K-12 schools become a niche?

This is SCCPSS’s largest project to date, as well as the largest school project undertaken by Charles Perry Partners. “There’s a huge difference between building a $30 million K-8 school and a $100 million K-12 school,” says Hamilton. “It’s a different level of construction.” He’s a big believer in superintendents owning their areas of responsibility, so on this project, his firm brought on board assistant supers with specialties in MEP, exteriors, and so forth. “It was like building a mini company.”

Hamilton says his firm hopes to parlay the Georgia K-12 multi-school building into more multi-school business. “We are definitely showcasing this project, because people want to work with builders that have been there, and have the T-shirt.”

Related Stories

| Aug 11, 2010

LA high school takes design cue from historic Mexican architecture

The Los Angeles Unified School District recently opened the $75 million Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez Learning Center, a high school in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights, near Little Tokyo. Designed by Nadel Architects in a joint venture with Barrio Planners Inc., the 114,000-sf school is vertically integrated, allowing the campus to fit on a compact, six-acre site.

| Aug 11, 2010

Nursing home turned charter school opens in Dorchester, Mass.

Cambridge, Mass.-based HMFH Architects spearheaded the design for the conversion of a former nursing home in Dorchester, Mass., to learning and community space for the Neighborhood House Charter School. The pre-K—8 school has two classrooms for each elementary grade level, clusters of middle school classrooms, a cafeteria, media center, and art, computer, music and science classrooms.

| Aug 11, 2010

Modest recession for education construction

Construction spending for education expanded modestly but steadily through March, while at the same time growth for other institutional construction had stalled earlier in 2009. Education spending is now at or near the peak for this building cycle. The value of education starts is off 9% year-to-date compared to 2008.

| Aug 11, 2010

Las Vegas high school focuses on careers in justice, emergency response

McCarthy Building Cos., St. Louis, recently completed construction on the 130,700-sf Veterans Tribute Career & Technical Academy, a Las Vegas high school that focuses on service career pathways in 911 dispatch training, law enforcement, crime scene analysis, emergency medical training, and computer forensics.

| Aug 11, 2010

Three Schools checking into L.A.'s Ambassador Hotel site

Pasadena-based Gonzalez Goodale Architects is designing three new schools for Los Angeles Unified School District's Central Wilshire District. The $400 million campus, located on the site of the former Ambassador Hotel, will house a K-5 elementary school, a middle school, a high school, a shared recreation facility (including soccer field, 25-meter swimming pool, two gymnasiums), and a new publ...

| Aug 11, 2010

7 Keys to Unlocking Energy Efficiency in Schools

Today’s best K-12 schools are embracing the sustainability ethos in their design and construction, and that can mean a healthier, more comfortable indoor environment and improved learning. Some studies contend that ample amounts of daylighting, for example, lead to higher test scores. High-performance HVAC systems that constantly draw fresh air into a classroom seem to help both teachers ...

| Aug 11, 2010

Blue-Light Schoolhouses

Add the explosion in the number of school-aged kids nationally to the glut of huge, vacant stores in many communities and what do you get? Big boxes being turned into schools. For districts facing population pressure, these empty retail buildings can be the key to creating classrooms quickly, and at a significant cost advantage.

| Aug 11, 2010

Great Solutions: Green Building

27. Next-Generation Green Roofs Sprout up in New York New York is not particularly known for its green roofs, but two recent projects may put the Big Apple on the map. In spring 2010, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts will debut one of the nation's first fully walkable green roofs. Located across from the Juilliard School in Lincoln Center's North Plaza, Illumination Lawn will consist ...

| Aug 11, 2010

Dream Fields, Lone Star Style

How important are athletic programs to U.S. school districts? Here's one leading indicator: In 2005, the National Football League sold 17 million tickets. That same year, America's high schools sold an estimated 225 million tickets to football games, according to the American Football Coaches Association.

| Aug 11, 2010

Back to Nature: Can wood construction create healthier, more productive learning environments?

Can the use of wood in school construction create healthier, safer, more productive learning environments? In Japan, there's an ongoing effort by government officials to construct school buildings with wood materials and finishes—everything from floors and ceilings to furniture and structural elements—in the belief that wood environments have a positive impact on students.

boombox1 - default
boombox2 -
native1 -

More In Category

Education Facilities

Oakland schools’ central kitchen cooks up lessons along with 30,000 meals daily

CAW Architects recently completed a facility for the Oakland, Calif., school district that feeds students and teaches them how to grow, harvest, and cook produce grown onsite. The production kitchen at the Unified School District Central Kitchen, Instructional Farm, and Education Center, (“The Center”) prepares and distributes about 30,000 meals a day for district schools lacking their own kitchens.

Giants 400

Top 170 K-12 School Architecture Firms for 2023

PBK Architects, Huckabee, DLR Group, VLK Architects, and Stantec top BD+C's ranking of the nation's largest K-12 school building architecture and architecture/engineering (AE) firms for 2023, as reported in Building Design+Construction's 2023 Giants 400 Report.

Giants 400

Top 100 K-12 School Construction Firms for 2023

CORE Construction, Gilbane, Balfour Beatty, Skanska USA, and Adolfson & Peterson top BD+C's ranking of the nation's largest K-12 school building contractors and construction management (CM) firms for 2023, as reported in Building Design+Construction's 2023 Giants 400 Report.

halfpage1 -

Most Popular Content

  1. 2021 Giants 400 Report
  2. Top 150 Architecture Firms for 2019
  3. 13 projects that represent the future of affordable housing
  4. Sagrada Familia completion date pushed back due to coronavirus
  5. Top 160 Architecture Firms 2021