Flemington, NJ – Adapting an antiquated educational space to fit the needs of a new generation of students is always a challenge for architectural designers. This was the case when the Hunterdon Central Regional High School (HCRHS) educator community and district administrators asked SSP Architects to partner with them to transform the functionality of a traditional media center/library into a “campus hub” of interactive learning. The exchange of ideas from this year-long planning process led to the evolution of a special design for a student/community learning space boosting the successful teaching of next-generation curriculum and encouraging student-led self-instruction.
“It is wonderful to see students and teachers now utilizing the Instructional Media Center (IMC), which pushes the boundaries on what flexible instruction should look like,” said Jeffrey Moore, Superintendent of HCRHS, during a video interview he did with Jeanne Perantoni, a Principal at SSP Architects in Somerville, NJ, which designed the IMC space.
Through the idea exploration process open to the entire learning community of the campus, the Center has achieved its design goal of creating positive habit-forming educational changes amongst students in its first full year of operation in 2022. The open communication planning process helped turn a hushed, sterile place for quiet reading into one that now inspires high school students to explore different ways of learning. The Center features an area that incorporates STEAM programs, dedicated breakout rooms, multiple small group learning spaces, areas for art display, and a performance stage. Student comfort is an important element throughout, with flexible furniture and soft seating readily available.
“The Center has quickly become the physical and spiritual center of the campus. It is a place for student wellness, powerful learning, and innovative, risk-taking instruction,” said Moore.
Agreeing with Moore, Jessica Cangelosi-Hade, director of curriculum and instruction, said, “Teachers are being encouraged to bring different aspects of our curricula into the IMC setting. This gives them the opportunity to bring greater innovation to their lessons.”
Previously under-utilized former computer labs and little used corners have been opened up with the removal of bookshelves. Replacing this are dedicated breakout rooms that are transparent to the balance of the space using expanses of glass. The design provides the ability to make independent, self-contained spaces.
“This open, visible space model is being used by many companies that like employees collaborating to up their game. This concept works well in the educational environment as well…Students can maximize their skills by interacting more with each other. This is further enhanced by the greater natural light we brought into the room, which lifts students’ spirits,” said Perantoni.
Enhancing the IMC learning environment further are the large windows replacing the narrow ones that give students and teachers a picture-perfect view of the outside wooded area.
“Giving students a breathtaking view of nature from the room makes their environmental studies even more relevant,” said Perantoni.
Moore said that even as schools build additional open areas there is still a great need for private, quieter spaces where students can have contemplative moments. At this often-stressful time for students and their families, the high school has made sure to create these quieter zones as well.