In my 30 years of being in the profession, I have witnessed my fair share of school gymnasiums built in the 50s and 60s. When a school district can finally afford to build a new competition gym, the old gym typically becomes underutilized and often times an eyesore. But it doesn’t have to be that way……
Obsolete gymnasiums can actually offer a great alternative for building expensive new performances spaces. Such was the case for renovation of the Jacksonville Middle School. The original 1950s gym (photo below) was small to say the least, and the original elevated seating area was the only student gathering place in the entire building.
As part of the recent $26 million renovation, this 1950s gym was transformed into a state-of-the art, flexible performance space. By infilling a new balcony level within the existing gym footprint, not only is the seating capacity increased, but the sightlines and intimacy of the space are greatly enhanced. The original elevated seating area became the new stage. By providing fixed auditorium seating in the balcony and moveable seating on the main floor, this space offers maximum flexibility. For smaller venues, the balcony does not have to be utilized, yet the event appears ‘full’. For larger venues, the balcony can be opened.
The main audience seating area can be easily rearranged to create flexible learning environments, collaboration areas, or community meeting space. Coupling desirable secondary uses with our performance space designs allows for high utilization and impacts the entire educational experience. This solution transforms performance spaces from desirable amenities to essential educational space.
The Jacksonville Middle School auditorium renovation is a multi-functional space providing all of the environments required for large and small group performance and rehearsal, speech and individual presentation, assemblies, entertainment, community presentation, and community education, as well as large and small group meetings, staff meetings, and unhoused student activities such as cheerleading.
Steve Oliver, AIA
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