Albuquerque’s Volcano Vista
Rises from the Lava
Built on a challenging site above ancient lava flows, Albuquerque’s first new high school in 20 years will accommodate 2,200 students using the small learning community concept.
To general contractor Gerald Martin’s management-vice president Johnny Barton, project manager Tiffany Bradley and general construction superintendent Don Gorenz-the central corridor of the $61.2 million Volcano Vista High School in Albuquerque most closely resembles the central pathway of a shopping mall.
The 1,000-ft-long corridor, which varies in height and is approximately 30 ft wide, will border three food courts and seven buildings. The buildings will house a library and different interest “centers” dedicated to arrangements of science, business, arts and other student academic interests. Ramps take walkers to different levels bordering the corridor.
“The central corridor is linear, but not a straight line,” says Barton. “It jogs, goes out on an angle and then straightens out. It’s like a mall, with three different serving areas off the mall. It’s a whole different feel from walking through a high school.”
But the project’s managing architect, Allison Abraham of Albuquerque-based SMPC Architects, says she sees the corridor more as a concourse. “I’d rather connote an airport than a shopping center,” she adds, preferring it be likened to a public space rather than a commercial one.
She says the corridor is daylighted by skylights strong enough to be part of the building-support system. The corridor links buildings, rather than leaving them separate like a campus.
What everyone agrees on, though, is that the 361,500-sq-ft school, at the far northwestern tip of Albuquerque, is not like high schools of the past. There is no straight, narrow corridor lined with lockers.
The school-the first in 20 years built by the city of Albuquerque and meant to serve 2,200 students on the city’s rapidly growing west side-was begun with a community “visioning session” among teachers, parents and students led by architecture and planning firm Healy, Bender and Associates Inc. of Naperville, Ill.
“The ways schools can function now are different from 20 years ago,” Abraham says. She adds that students are using new technologies and are working in relatively small groups.
It will be one of the first schools in New Mexico to use the small learning communities concept, which divides students into smaller groups of 150 students for a more personalized and collaborative learning experience.
The project’s design architect, Henderson, Nev.-based Tate Snyder Kimsey Architects, designed the structures around these concepts.
A 79,000-sq-ft academy building for ninth-graders was completed in August; the rest are scheduled for next year. Bids for the second, $20 million building phase will take place in October and include four more buildings, including a performing arts center.
Constructing the individually themed buildings more or less simultaneously hasn’t been easy in a state with a shallow skilled-labor pool, Gorenz says. He adds that his subs must field enough teams, some up to five crews, to work on a number of building wings at the same time.
But “we’ve had a good response, and our subs have paid attention,” Barton says. “There are multiple crews working in different wings, treating each building as a separate entity. Subs can’t just bring one crew and move on.”
Next to the largely unfinished structural-grey and earth-tone buildings, a series of already-green soccer, football, baseball and softball fields on the 50-acre site move the eye from black-and-white to color.
Usually, landscaping is added at the end, but here the work was done out of necessity, Gorenz says.
“Those kids were going to start playing sports at the start of the school year in August,” he adds. “Those fields had to be ready.”
Structural engineer David Grieves of Albuquerque-based Chavez-Grieves Consulting Engineers says he takes pleasure in the project because “architects can generate excitement in school design more than they can with structures like office buildings. Schools are meant to be a good experience. Architects know these are public facilities, meant to be around a long time and shape a lot of lives.”
Barton describes the rock-hard construction site-mainly basalt, the result of long-ago lava flows-as one of the most challenging aspects of the job.
“The owner issued a separate contract on rock blasting,” he says. Mass grading leveled the site to +/- 6 in., “but we still encounter rock when we dig,” he adds.
There is an average of 40 cu yds of concrete per footing, Gorenz says.
Grieves adds that the basalt provides solid structure support. “The proximity to rock allows us to get good values for design-economical for the concrete we have to cast,” he says.
Building on rock also mitigates seismic activity on the building, Grieves says. “Not that there’s less earthquake possibility, but the rock minimizes the forces that would hit the building,” he adds. “So less steel and concrete are needed to brace the buildings.”
Barton says the overall schedule itself has been a hurdle. “We received a building permit in December, and our completion date is June 2008,” he says. “When the school district writes in changes to improve the school -- well, any changes in a short-duration project make it that much harder to meet the completion schedule.”
There’s no way to push back the completion date, he says. “Students have to have a place to go to school.” Changes have not affected the basic layout of the school, but Barton says they have included smaller items like changing classrooms to science labs, which meant changes in mechanical systems because of exhaust needs.
He adds that teamwork has helped move the project along. “It’s just an attitude,” Barton says. “It’s how we approach every issue: we all have the same goal. When we all remember that, we move ahead.”
The building has moved ahead so quickly that no attempt at LEED certification has been made. However, there may be an attempt to apply for that status retroactively.
“We’ve been careful in our use of materials,” Abraham says. “Vinyl composition tile is a bad environmental material, so we eliminated that and instead used [acid-stained] concrete flooring. And our daylighting will count.” There are also sun shades on the building’s exterior to reduce heat gain.
The project will take 21,000 cu yds of concrete and 2,100 tons of steel, according to figures from Gerald Martin.
Owner: Albuquerque Public Schools
Architect: SMPC Architects; Tate Snyder Kimsey Architects
General Contractor: Gerald Martin General Contractor
Engineers: Chavez-Grieves Consulting Engineers; Bohannan Huston; Harmeyer-Nellos; THE Group
Subcontractors: Miller Bonded; Theco; Les File Drywall; Southwest Glass & Glazing
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