The Responsible Renovation of Melrose High School

This post was originally published in 2015
The article and any details explained may be outdated.

The proposed Learning Commons area for Melrose High School

The proposed Learning Commons area for Melrose High School

Two years ago, we transformed the science classrooms at Melrose High School from oversized open areas divided by makeshift partitions into a state-of-the-art science wing with nine new, fully equipped, proper classrooms and lab spaces. We took an awkward space that was designed according to an outdated educational philosophy and made it into a modern area that serves students and teachers well.

Now we are tackling a similar challenge: Reconfiguring the library area (the old resource center) to transform it into a learning commons where students can work independently, in small groups and in large classes in a variety of different learning situations and using both print and digital resources.

The existing library, which comprises 20,000 square feet, or about 10% of the total area of the school, is not maximizing the opportunities available for the students or the staff. Our redesign will bring this important part of our high school into line with 21st century teaching and learning expectations and practices.

That means important changes in infrastructure and wiring, strengthening the bones of our school so it can handle the demands we put on it. It also means reconfiguring the space to reflect the new ways that students learn, with separate areas for full classes, small group projects, and individual study:

  • There will be a separate space for “blended learning,” collaborative classes that combine online instruction and live supervision—something that would be unimaginable in 1975 but is happening every day in 2015.
  • To accommodate our students’ need for different types of literacy, not just reading and writing, we will have a special graphics classroom and an upgraded television studio.
  • A new business classroom and CAD lab will help train Melrose High School students for today’s jobs as well as tomorrow’s.
  • Students who have to quickly print a paper or look something up before a class will be able to use the computers in our quick-stop tech space.
  • We are adding project rooms, as we did in the middle school, where several classes can be brought together to work collaboratively and departments and teachers can hold professional development.
  • And we will have a presentation space with a practice room where students can hone their public speaking and presentation skills. This space will have a flexible layout to accommodate up to 200 people. Anyone who has been to a meeting in the existing resource center will appreciate the need for a comfortable space with good acoustics for large and small meetings. The space can also be used by other organizations and groups in Melrose.
  • In addition to the library renovations, we are creating a new administrative suite to bring guidance and other student services departments into a single space in an easily accessible area on the first floor. This will benefit both staff and parents with easy accessibility to the support staff.
  • Like all the capital projects previously done at Melrose High School, this will be done within our debt budget and is part of our ongoing infrastructure plan for keeping up with capital improvements throughout the city. It is in line with our policy of committing no more than 5% of the operating budget to debt service and also takes advantage of the best bond rating in the city’s history. This is smart fiscal planning for the most pressing infrastructure need in our city right now.

From the first day of kindergarten until the last day of senior year, we expect our students to learn independently and collaboratively–as will be required of them in the workplace. No longer do they sit passively all day and listen to a teacher give a lecture. We expect students to be active participants, to work together in small groups to solve problems and to do research and work on projects independently. This was an important component of the design of our award-winning middle school.

The Melrose High School library, in its current configuration, simply does not support this type of learning. It is a vast, underutilized space, cavernous, cold, and depressing. On the other hand, this open space configuration of the library, like the science wing, lends itself well to this redesign. We will not only change the ways the space is used, we will bring in more natural light to make this a more attractive and pleasant space for students and staff alike.

Building a new school would cost well over $100 million, and that’s simply not an option. What we can do is manage what we have in the best way possible. Renovating Melrose High School is the best choice for students and taxpayers. We have already enclosed the open space areas and made separate classrooms, and we turned the dysfunctional science area into a new, thoughtfully designed science wing, and we have built fine arts and athletic facilities that are second to none in Massachusetts and benefit the entire community across all age groups.

Our School Building Committee has been analyzing and discussing this space for several years. In fact, the poor initial design and construction of Melrose High School has been an albatross around the community’s neck for four decades, and that problem needs to be solved once and for all. The Committee has come up with a thoughtful solution that we believe is the best possible use of the space. We are not just putting new equipment in old rooms, we are creating a new space that accommodates the many ways students learn in the 21st century and allows them to develop and hone the skills they will use in college and in their future careers. This is how you build a better community and a better future for Melrose.