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North Atlanta High School

Won-Door part of ground-breaking inner-city campus

By Sharon Haddock

North Atlanta High SchoolATLANTA — When you talk ground-breaking, the new high school in north Atlanta rising from the ashes of an old office complex did that, does that, and continues to prove it's quite possible to be something different.

Collins Cooper Carusi Architects, Inc., along with Cooper Carry & Associates are taking 56 acres of opportunity and turning what was a complex of aging IBM office buildings (including two 11-story towers) and turning them into a beautiful, workable, LEED-certified high school campus.  At the same time, they are showing the country — particularly school districts looking for more land and space — that valuable, finite inner-city space can be effectively and efficiently repurposed.

Won-door FireGuard accordion doors are part of the project providing doors for 48 openings, separating and protecting, among other access points, the express elevator doorways that will transport students rapidly to the upper floors.  "We definitely had a challenge with this project. Oh, man," said Margarita R. Perez, the onsite architect for Collins Cooper Carusi Architects, Inc. "We needed to get 2,400 kids up to the classrooms on the upper floors.  "Our primary concerns were the up-and-down access and security. That's where the Won-Doors came in."

Won-door helps make easy and safe access for the surges of students trying to make their way from class to class on different levels.  "We needed elevator lobbies with large openings and we still had to meet code. Basically we were handed a glass box to work in," Perez said. "Our openings had to be quite large to really allow the kind of flow we needed."  Perez said the Won-Door FireGuard doors and a destination elevator system (that groups people in the elevators according to the various floors they want) solved many of the problems.

Fred Rotter, district manager for Won-door for Georgia, Atlanta and Tennessee Area said the project is being watched by school districts across the nation.  "Has anyone ever seen an 11-story high school before?" Rotter asked. "I believe this is a first."

Perez knows of a couple of similar projects in New York City and in Chicago but one is a new school on virgin land rather than adapted property.  She believes the North Atlanta High School is quite unique in that the school is being built where buildings already existed for a very different use.  Perez said her firm and the contractor ended up modeling almost every move so as to be sure that they were doing would work with existing low ceilings and infrastructure.

Won-Door engineers came out and assisted in fitting the accordion door supports into the space without conflicts.  "In the future, I would include Won-Door much earlier in the process," Perez said. "They were extremely helpful."

The land for the project was sold to the Atlanta Public School System for $56 million. It will cost the district $70.9 million to convert the building, a total of $132 million for the new campus — a fair price given the fact that virtually no inner-city 60-acre plots are available for purchase in the area.  "Adaptive reuse" is the modern term for something like taking office towers and making impressive educational space from them.  "I do think others will look at this and be interested in what we've done," Perez said.

One of the original towers was razed, the other renovated into 400,000 square feet of learning space (modern classrooms) as well as a cafeteria, administration offices, media center and library in the three lower floors.  The new tower will house the gymnasium, a 600-seat auditorium, a theater and performing arts space.  Each building is 400' long by 100' wide with the dimensions and low ceilings dictated by what had gone before.  The parking lots have become ball fields laid out among the existing woods.

North Atlanta High School's interim principal Mark MyGrant said the campus is a dream site for a high school.  The new campus is one of the largest investments by Atlanta Public Schools on the north side of Atlanta in decades and is a response to significant increases in enrollment numbers.  Perez said she is most interested in checking back in a few months to see how it all works from a student's perspective.  "You know, from having been in high school, you stop to talk to a girlfriend and then still have to get to class on time on the 11th floor. You can only solve so much as an architect."

The new North Atlanta High School at 4111 Northside Parkway, Buckhead, will open in the fall of 2013.