School of the Future: A custom-designed metal building brings a high level of technology and fun to a new school

While students do not typically look forward to returning to school after Christmas break, the middle schoolers at Columbus Middle School in Columbus, Miss., were excited to move into their newly-constructed, state-of-the-art school. Most weren’t expecting the high level of technology and the fun, casual atmosphere of the facility that involved custom-design metal construction from a hometown company, Ceco Building Systems.




Previously, students in grades sixth through eighth had attended two separate schools. When a reorganization in the school district involved combining grades six through eight, the school board and administration determined renovating the existing buildings was too costly and inefficient. According to the school superintendent Del Phillips, they then decided to build a new facility to house the three grades.




With its headquarters and Southern service center located only a few miles away, Ceco Building Systems was anxious to be involved in the construction of the new school. “This exciting school concept is a precursor of things to come in the education community, and Ceco was pleased to be involved with local architects Pryor and Morrow in design assistance and constructing a ‘school of the future,'” says Ceco President Roger Burlingame.


Located in northeast Columbus, the new middle school features incredible security measures, wireless internet throughout the building and online, interactive “chalkboards,” as well as modular furniture and a color scheme that creates a comfortable mood conducive to learning.


“The building is very functional,” says Phillips. “It was built with teaching and learning in mind, and integrates new technology into the daily activities in every classroom.”




The 150,515-square-foot clear span project comprises seven buildings radiating from a rotunda hub: a gym/cafeteria, sixth-grade wing, seventh-grade wing, eighth-grade wing, auditorium/band hall, administration and library.


“The principal can stand in the rotunda and see down every hallway to monitor the school,” says Rick Williams, project manager with West Brothers Construction Inc., the general contractor. “This is a good use of a metal building … It’s very attractive and has a lot of high-end finishes-very high-tech.”


According to Phillips, each of the new classrooms has its own Promethean board, a type of interactive whiteboard that accesses the Internet and has become the primary teaching tool for the middle-school teachers.


Modular desks and chairs are separate, allowing teachers to easily configure seating arrangements for individual or team learning, depending on the task at hand.


“We tried to make the library enjoyable, like a Barnes & Noble store,” Phillips says. With hardwood floors and carpet throughout the room, pendant lighting, light wood and massive windows, students enjoy a very open feel. Cushioned furniture, coffee tables and geometric shapes create a warm atmosphere.




Other unique areas include a gym with its own weight room, 150 combination locks and a door that opens directly onto the practice field, as well as a cafeteria that resembles a shopping mall food court.


Chris Morrow, architect with Pryor & Morrow Architects, says of the unique design aspects of the educational facility, “Interior
(structural) loadings varied greatly from space to space. We were able to identify and achieve higher specified loadings where they were needed and not increase the cost of the entire project.”


Ceco modified standard trims to allow the incorporation of other materials like glass-reinforced concrete. Morrow explains that space allocation for columns and frames tended to be somewhat of a challenge, but he explains that early and continual coordination with Ceco made this a smoother process during construction. The roof consists of Ceco’s standing-seam Battenlok panels in Bronze. A brick veneer covers most of the facility’s exterior walls.


According to Williams, the biggest challenge during the project was enduring 100 days of rain. The project was not delayed, however, and work began on April 9, 2010 and by January 19, 2011, the students started classes in the new facility.


The students have taken to their new learning environment positively. “They have responded to it very well,” Phillips says. “They love it.”


General contractor: West Brothers Construction Inc., Columbus

Architect: Pryor & Morrow Architects, Columbus

Metal building: Ceco Building Systems, Columbus,