Why was a high school renovation needed?
Ladue Horton Watkins High School was built in 1951 on land donated by Mrs. Horton Watkins with the understanding the school would be named after her late husband. Over the course of time, the building has had additions, and relatively new theater and physical education facilities have been built. However, the majority of the high school’s classrooms have not been substantially updated since they were originally built in the 1950s, ’60s and early ’70s.
This illustration reflects the general timing of various additions to the building, most of which were done as a result of increasing enrollment. Additional classrooms were added in 1953, 1960, 1964, and in 1971 when the building had its largest student enrollment ever at 1,595. (In the 2015-16 school year, high school enrollment was just over 1,300 students.)
As more space was needed, more classrooms were tacked on as buildable land allowed. (Much of the land lies within base, 500-year or Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] flood boundaries.)
The result of these multiple additions over time is a rather illogical layout of classrooms with science labs, for instance, being added all over the building as student enrollment increased. (See green sections in this illustration.)
In addition, the current high school was built at a time when the structure of classrooms was based on desks in rows, and the delivery of instruction was primarily through lecture. Today’s best practices in teaching and learning require spaces conducive to collaboration across disciplines, small group work, and the integrated use of science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM). While some lecture-based instruction remains, best practice now incorporates opportunities for students to apply their knowledge from multiple disciplines in real-world applications and group-based projects. Implementing these current instructional best practices is often difficult, and sometimes impossible, within the current structure of the facility.
As a result of all of these factors, addressing the needs of the current high school facility became the first component of the district’s Facilities Master Plan as originally put forth in 2011, and updated in 2012.
“It would be hard to imagine efficiently working or living in a home or office that hasn’t changed much since the 1960s, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to effectively teach in a space designed for that era,” according to LHWHS Principal Brad Griffith. “We’ve been creative in repurposing our existing space, but we are at a point where the basic infrastructure of the building needs to be addressed.”
This is not a challenge unique to the Ladue School District. Many educational facilities across the nation, like the district’s current high school, were built during the “baby boom” years between 1946 and 1964. These districts are now recognizing the educational limitations of these facilities and significant infrastructure upgrading is in progress nationwide. (See the section Breaking New Ground or Playing Catch Up? for photos of area public high schools that have recently been renovated.)