With only 1.63 acres to work with and a budget that was less than half that for a public school, every piece of St. Thomas the Apostle’s new education building had to multitask. Elementary school students take their lessons in the classrooms and the library/art room by day, and adult learners fill the rooms nights and weekends. The playground is the parking garage roof. The gym also serves as space for city health fairs, a gathering place for back-to-school assemblies, and a revenue-generating room for rent to the community.
A covered “urban porch” is a shady place for students to have lunch, parishioners to gather to chat after church, and a stage for performances. The required fire lane around the building is the access to underground parking, a buffer for the school, and is also used for picking up and dropping off students. The handicapped ramp is part of a wide pedestrian walkway from the renovated existing school building and the new area. Planters filter roof runoff.
Even the building itself does more than just shelter. Pushed to the site’s west side, it offers afternoon shade for after-school child care. “Really, making everything do three or four things” was the biggest design challenge for the project, says architect Margaret Griffin of Griffin Enright Architects.
The next was most likely the budget. To squeeze the most out of the meager building fund, Griffin Enright used cost-effective materials such as industrial corrugated metal siding, expanded metal mesh, exposed concrete, and off-the-shelf Vulcraft trusses. “Really the only splurge is the big orange wall,” says Griffin.