Optimizing Oak Ridge

“The selection committee was impressed with the design solution presented by DLR Group and ACWH during the competition,” Bailey notes. “These designers were able to re-energize the pride our community shares for our educational facilities.”

From the start, DLR Group knew this project was special. The firm realized immediately the importance academics played in the community, and, as designers, its job was to refurbish the building into an academic trophy for Oak Ridge.

Public meetings didn’t stop when the architects and engineers were hired. DLR Group and ACHW conducted three charettes with all interested parties, allowing the firms to validate the design concept used to ultimately win the project. The interactive sessions allowed the firms to gather additional design input from administration, school board, teachers, citizens, business community and students.

For instance, the existing entrance was positioned on the north side, limiting visibility from the highway. DLR Group designers seized an opportunity to re-orient the entrance to the south side to face the heavily traveled Oak Ridge Turnpike, enhancing the school’s prominence in the community. This idea was well received by the selection committee and the community.

Designers utilized the charettes to establish an overall goal for the project — to create an inspiring, state-of-the-art learning environment. This would be accomplished by supporting the school’s educational vision of interdisciplinary learning and the career academies, strengthening the community connections and increasing the school’s visibility.

Final project scope included an addition of 166,400 square feet, which nearly doubled the size of the high school on the existing site, and renovations to the existing 180,000 square feet. The board challenged DLR Group to develop a phased approach, allowing the school to remain in operation during construction. The project had 15 separate completion dates between November 2006 and July 2008.

Funding the Jewel

Tennessee ranks 49th in state funding for schools, so the financial burden of school construction typically falls on taxpayers and community members. In 2004, the Oak Ridge community rallied together to pass a $60 million bond issue by a 3-to-1 ratio.

“The Oak Ridge community passed the only bond referendum in 2004 in Tennessee,” Bailey emphasizes. “That speaks volumes for the support these folks have for our schools and the future of our community.”

“Generations of families have passed through the halls of Oak Ridge High School. We considered the history of the school and its meaning to the community when we decided the best option was to renovate versus build a new facility.”
-Dr. Thomas Bailey, superintendent, Oak Ridge High School

But community members wanted more than a typical high school. They wanted a high school that would be the source of pride for Oak Ridge and would support academic excellence the community had grown to expect.

In addition to the bond referendum, residents and businesses contributed $8 million to bridge the gap in funding of the largest school renovation in Tennessee history. Supporters also donated to fund specific areas of the school. For example, an orchestra pit was not in the original plans or budget but was made possible through a private donation. These statistics tell the story about the Oak Ridge community and the support of an updated, high-tech high school.

Good Design

ORNL always has had a focus on properly designed buildings that improve energy and water efficiency. As such, DLR Group designers responded to that commitment by incorporating several efficiency features in the facility.

“Oak Ridge is a scientific community and is a leader in the research of energy,” Bailey explains. “Our community … would not settle for less on the high school.”


DLR Group incorporated two design solutions to reduce the lighting load in the school. The design application is occupancy sensors that control the lighting in all classrooms; lights are not turned on if the room is not in use. In addition to these sensors, teachers and students have the option of selecting from three light levels in even one-third increments.

Occupants can choose the lowest light level required for their tasks and comfort level. For example, if the occupant is comfortable with two-thirds of the designed maximum light level, he can switch the lights accordingly and save one-third the normal energy required.

About the Author

Jim French
Jim, AIA,REFP, is a senior principal and the K-12 education leader for DLR Group, a nationally recognized design firm.

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