Republished from “Atmosphere isn’t sacrificed for security at new Farmington High School” by Mike Easterling

FARMINGTON — When it came time to design a new main building at Farmington High School, Jeremy Trumble of the Albuquerque-based design firm FBT Architects knew there was one priority that towered above the rest — security.

As the number of violent episodes at American schools has climbed in recent decades, school officials have found themselves having to strictly limit outsider access to their hallways, classrooms and offices to ensure the safety of students, and faculty and staff members. At many older structures, like the recently demolished Farmington High School, there was no feasible way to do that without starting over.

But how to accomplish that objective without designing a facility that looks like a fortress?

That’s where Trumble and his firm have come in. On Thursday, he and Ted Lasiewicz, the director of operations for the Farmington Municipal School District, provided a tour for district officials of the new FHS campus. They walked their guests through a still-under-construction main building that thoroughly addresses those security concerns by funneling all visitors through a tightly controlled check-in point from which administrators can monitor the actions of everyone coming and going.

 

But once visitors to the building proceed past the main entry, they enter a structure that features an abundance of warm, inviting spaces that make optimal use of natural light with floor-to-ceiling windows and open floor plans. The main hall, in fact, looks more like the headquarters of an ambitious Silicon Valley web start-up than a traditional American high school.

“It was challenging,” Trumble said of the need to serve two masters at once — security and aesthetics. “We needed to plan the facility so it limited the outside access.”

But Trumble said he and his fellow designers believe they have provided the school with a safer environment in other, less-obvious ways.

“The transparency really aids the security,” he said of the unrestricted sight lines throughout the campus. “It might seem counterintuitive, but it’s true. That discourages vandalism. You’ve got a lot more eyes able to see throughout the school, and that creates a safer environment.”

As workers for the project’s general contractor, Jaynes Construction, continued their efforts Thursday to get the main building ready for a middle-of-the-school-year opening, Trumble and Lasiewicz guided visitors through the structure’s various departments, including administrative and counseling offices, the cafeteria, the library, science and math classrooms, and commons spaces. A great deal of work remains to be done, but district officials are confident they’ll meet their deadlines.

 

“The schedule is to complete all of this by December so classrooms can be occupied by January,” Lasiewicz said.

Some parts of the new campus will be finished before then. After leaving the main building, Thursday’s visitors were walked across the courtyard to the school’s new gym, which will open to the public next month for the start of prep volleyball season.

“Now, you’re going to see some finished work,” Lasiewicz said as that portion of the tour commenced.

Impressive as the gym is — with its sparkling new sunken basketball floor polished to a sheen, two video boards, large concession stand, mural, natural lighting, spacious foyer and, of course, Scorpion green theater seating — the unfinished portions of the project included a wow factor of their own.

The hall in the main building is two stories, and its floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the courtyard, bathing a good portion of the structure’s interior in natural light. On the second floor of the east end, the library also features floor-to-ceiling windows that provide a commanding view of Hutchison Stadium, as well as much of the rest of Farmington.

“We really tried to maximize the view of the valley,” Trumble said of that vantage point.

“We were trying to promote a social atmosphere here, not so much a bookworm thing,” Lasiewicz said.

Another highlight is the indoor “amphitheater” on the south side of the main hall adjacent to the cafeteria kitchen. Banked concrete bench seating nine rows deep will provide students with another place to mingle or down their lunch besides the traditional cafeteria table seating, and Lasiewicz hastened to add the space also will have a pull-down screen in front for video presentations.

All in all, the two men said, the new FHS will feature much more of a collegiate atmosphere, perhaps as part of an effort to subtly encourage more students to think of their future in those terms.

While some of the work on the new campus isn’t scheduled to be completed until next summer, the project has been underway since last fall. Trumble — who also has been involved in construction projects at such district schools as McCormick and Northeast elementary schools, and Tibbetts and Hermosa middle schools — noted the difficulty of building new facilities while students remained on campus, largely using temporary structures.

“That was something that was consistently on our minds, and we were focused on it,” he said. “With some good planning and working with Jaynes Construction, were able to keep a safe environment during the school year.”

That separated this project from the other district schools he’s work on, Trumble said, but he almost seemed to revel in that degree of difficulty.

“This one was definitely the most logistically challenging,” he said. “It was definitely a different level. But the quality is something to note.”

Trumble also appreciated the chance to help craft a new environment for the district’s older students.

“We’ve had the opportunity to do elementary schools, middle schools and now a high school,” he said. “So we’ve had the chance to impact kids at all levels.”

Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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