Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ravenna High Review

Front of the new Ravenna High School on August 14th
On Saturday Mom and I had a chance to attend the open house of the new Ravenna High School.  Two weeks prior (August 14) we attended the open house of the old Ravenna High School along Clinton Street, a building I had only been in a part of.  I enjoyed seeing it, particularly the old section, which opened in 1923, one year after the Davey building in Kent (which was the first home of Roosevelt High School).  It was interesting to see the similarities and differences between the two buildings in terms of layout and style.  One thing I can say for sure, the historical account that the old Ravenna High School had a "1,000 seat auditorium" was a gross exaggeration by the Ravenna Republican in 1923.   Mom and I counted 399 seats in there and it wasn't like there were large sections with seats missing.  While it may have held more with a tighter seating configuration (the seats were obviously not original; I'd love to see a picture inside it when new), the space would only allow for a few dozen more seats, maybe 100 more with effort.  It certainly wasn't 1,000 or even 500.  Despite that, it's a figure that keeps getting repeated over and over in articles about the school opening.

Old Ravenna High School, which dates to 1923,
back in September 2009
Well, out with the old!  The new building is pretty nice, as it should be for something that cost $29 million and was several years in the making.  I'm not someone who is easily impressed, though, so I can't say it totally blew me away with ingenuity or design.  The outside tries to evoke a more classic look with some arched windows, an older roofline, and even a few decorations (little concrete "R"s along the outer walls).  I can go for that, though even as much as I like windows, I thought the main entrance by the cafeteria was a bit too much glass.  I definitely did like seeing lots of windows in the building, though disappointed those windows only had small openings.  I also liked seeing the use of skylights, though they weren't direct skylights.  If you stood under and looked up you can see light but not the sky as the opening is not perpendicular with the viewer.  It allows for some natural light, which is definitely a plus, but I'd prefer to be able to look up and see sky!

The layout works.  Basically all the classes that use atypical spaces like music, theater, physical education, and the cafeteria are all located on one end of the building.  The other side of the building is divided into three hallways separated by two long courtyards and then the library is on the far end of that, kind of like a keystone.  Stanton Middle School in Kent has a similar layout in terms of having the typical classrooms on one side and the "specials" on the other.  Ravenna High School reminded me of a claw when I first saw the layout.  It's also all on one floor; the only actual staircase in the entire building is outside the field house gym.  It goes up to an elevated track that I will address later.

There were definitely elements that made it clear the state had a role in its design.  For one, the school is designed to hold 850 students, which is right about what the school's enrollment is.  The state never designs a school that is bigger than it needs to be or plans for growth, so it has JUST enough room; it fits like a glove.  Stanton Middle School, on the other hand, which has about 800 students itself, is actually designed to hold 1,200.  Guess how much role the state had in designing that school.  Yep.  None.  That said, it still seemed to fit what Ravenna needed and had a few extras thrown in.  The deal to build this involved the district passing a bond issue and then the state paid about 50% ($13.6 million) of the costs and the bond issue the rest.  The bond issue also covered the "extras" the state won't cover: an extra gym and an actual auditorium.  When I was student teaching at Southeast Middle School, I got to see firsthand what a state-funded school looks like.  It wasn't bad at all, but the "audteria" was an absolute joke and the gym was pretty small.  Stanton has an auditeria which I've detested since it was built, but it was WAAAAY better than the sorry excuse for a performance area Southeast had.  It was totally non-funtional for anything like concerts or drama.  Even assemblies weren't that suitable as only one grade could fit at a time.

Now to the elements I really went looking for.  I definitely wanted to see the new auditorium.  I also wanted to see the "field house" gym and the main gym, plus I made sure to see the music rooms.  As someone who enjoys architecture (if I hadn't been a music major I would've been an architecture major) I always enjoy seeing new buildings and different styles.

The field house was the element I thought was best in the school.  Not only does it have the elevated walking track, but it has enough space to have two full basketball courts (which are marked).  The floor is a rubberized surface, so it bounces a little when you walk on it.  I also liked the use of windows, though was a tad disappointed they are translucent.  I'm not a big fan of translucent windows unless they're needed (like a bathroom).  Why not make them clear so people can see outside?  Anyway, overall I really liked it.  I have long wished Kent would get something similar (though larger) at the high school, so I enjoyed being able to see an example of one.  The last one of these I saw was at Avon Lake High School and it was under construction.  I thought it was an excellent idea!
Interior view of the "field house gym".  On the left are entrances to locker rooms and a physical education classroom.
The auditorium was a disappointment to me.  Sure, it's WAAAAAY better than the ancient Greek stage they had at the old building, but there are things that I was scratching my head as to why they weren't included.  The first thing that surprised me was the seating capacity.  All along they've been saying it will seat 900.  Technically, it does seat about 900, but that's only after expandable seating is added.  Most of the time it will seat about 600.  The expandable seating is a section of retractable chairs in the back that slides back into the cafeteria when being used.  This is a problem mostly for sound as it will open the back up and not provide a back wall or close ceiling for sound to bounce off, plus when it isn't open, there's a huge curtain covering the extra seats which will absorb sound.  The other thing that surprised me was the lack of a fly system on stage.  Everything is suspended permanently from the ceiling.  That greatly limits the theatrical capabilities of the stage (we were pretty upset when Stanton was built and it didn't have a fly system after having one at Davey).  The stage is a good size, but lacks that fly system and I wasn't too thrilled with the flooring (seemed like laminated black particle board, which I saw used at Davey after it was renovated).  All in all, a huge improvement on what they had, but this thing still can't hold a candle to Roosevelt's auditorium.
Not the best picture.  Oh how I wish I had my brother's D90 here!  You can kind of see the curtains in the back that hide the retractable seating.  The line of light near the top of the picture is the gap between the ceiling and the removable wall separating the auditorium and cafeteria that is removed when the extra seating is used.
This is a picture from page A9 of the August 29 Record-Courier.  You can see the back section open here.  The pitched roof visible above the back section is actually the outer wall and ceiling of the cafeteria, several feet behind the the back wall of the auditorium
The gym was nice, but nothing that blew me away.  I definitely liked the large windows on two sides, but like the field house, was disappointed they were translucent.  The new gym, again, is WAY better than what they had, though, so it will be nice for them.  The coolest feature I had never seen before was a retractable volleyball net.  Instead of having it set up with poles in the floor, it is suspended in the ceiling and folds up, much like extra basketball hoops.  The gym also has plenty of room to get around and made extra space for the teams to sit in apart from the bleachers.  It will definitely not be as tight as the old one!
I'm assuming this will be the "home" side of the bleachers.  In the top center you can kind of make out the suspended volleyball net with the ref's stand visible (round thing).
Other side of the gym where the teams and likely the visitors will sit.  The teams will sit in front of the railings which makes it easier to get around than at the "old school" type gyms where players sit on the first row of bleachers.  The only problem I see is the railings might be a bit too high for people sitting in the front row...
The choir room was a lot smaller than I thought it would be.  I know Ravenna is a smaller school than Roosevelt, but not THAT much smaller.  It must've been half the size or less than what we have here and the only risers in the room were the ones that are used for concerts (that you stand on).  Maybe it was in "display mode" but it didn't look like a good setup and certainly limited how many people can be in choir.  The band room looked like a good size.  The setup of the music rooms reminded me a lot of how they are at Stanton with practice rooms in between the band and choir rooms.  The cafeteria also struck me as smaller than I thought it would be.  Like many things, it's WAY better than at the old high school (I was literally stunned how small the cafeteria was at the old building), but I guess I expected it to be a little bigger.  Oh well, maybe I have a false idea of how big it needs to be?  :)
Definitely not a horrible setup, but this seemed a bit small for me, especially hearing that Ravenna has some large choirs.  I do prefer risers that have places for everyone to sit.
Another view of the choir room from behind the risers.  Apparently the piano has not arrived yet!
It's definitely a building that the people of Ravenna can be proud of in the end.  It is very bright and modern and has plenty of technology available to enhance the learning experience.  It's a huge step up from the old building, even with all the memories attached to that place.  I hope Ravenna students take pride in their building and keep it nice!

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