Horry County Schools group gets design ideas from building trip

Natural light, openness and multi-use spaces were some of the concepts that made an impression on members of an Horry County Schools group that traveled to Houston April 10-11 to get design ideas for new schools to be built in the district.

The group is part of a steering committee that is working with SHW Group architectural firm on elementary/intermediate and middle school prototypes that will meet future capacity needs and support the district’s educational programs. The group, which included school board members, district officials and principals, toured five schools and will report their findings to the full steering committee in the next few weeks.

“There were some things I liked more than I thought that I would,” said Horry County school board Chairman Joe DeFeo. “We definitely did not agree on every little item – we saw a lot – and some things we’ve talked about before. … It’s possible this trip could save us millions and millions of dollars.”

DeFeo said he was impressed with the transparency of interior glass walls at one of the least expensive schools on the visit. The walls allow for shared learning centers, he said, and extra aides are unnecessary because when a teacher walks outside of their classroom, they can still monitor their students.

Board member Jeffrey Garland was impressed with a school that has a lot of windows to allow natural light into the classrooms, which he said saves energy and cuts back on electrical bills. All that glass, however, could represent a security concern, DeFeo said, so while natural light is good for the working environment, the security aspect would have to be considered in the design. Garland and DeFeo prefer a two-story model – there’s a cost savings in going up instead of out, Garland said – but the group did see a three-story middle school that had one grade on each level.

Other ideas the group considered ranged from using easy-to-clean ceramic tile instead of painted surfaces to having media centers as a focal point near the front of schools and having the capability to close off parts of a building when it is being used for community events. Garland said they saw some great schools, but a substantial amount of money had been spent on some of them, and the district’s decisions will be partially dictated by finances.

“We talked to [school officials] about what they liked, but also what they wished they would have done or done differently,” Garland said. “We’re hoping this will help us to save money and hopefully to learn from them and avoid some of their pitfalls.”