Translucent Façade Highlights Learning

Educational facilities emphasize daylighting, openness, and collaboration.

Meeting objectives by use of a translucent façade, a Casper, WY, educational facility emphasizes daylighting, openness, transparency, and collaboration. Photos: Astula Inc.

Set within a 38-acre educational campus in Casper, WY, Roosevelt High School and the Pathways Innovation Center (PIC) share 126,000 sq. ft. of learning space. Designed by Cuningham Group Architecture, Minneapolis, with Casper-based partner MOA Architecture, the facilities emphasize daylighting, openness, transparency, and collaboration.

Exemplifying these objectives with a translucent façade, Exterior Technologies Inc. (EXTECH), Pittsburgh, supplied Overhead Door Company of Casper Inc., with more than 3,000 sq. ft. of its Lightwall 3440 interlocking polycarbonate translucent wall system. Along with its standard wall system, the company created a dual wall system to provide high thermal performance, plus customized vertical sunscreens for aesthetic accents and light diffusion.

Beyond the need for new and updated school buildings, the Natrona County School District’s overall goal was to provide an environment that allows the advanced technology necessary to “prepare children for success in a world we cannot yet imagine,” said Scott Krenner, the project’s design lead and senior associate at Cuningham Group. “Rather than follow a traditional vocational approach, this high school presents new pathways to success; a way to shine that may not be found in standardized tests. Here, their inventive thinking and new skills are much more visible.”

As many as 500 students arrive daily at PIC from three area schools, including the adjacent Roosevelt High School. “Early on, the school district realized it wanted to increase engagement with the kids in a different way, not just add more classrooms,” explained Krenner. “Many of PIC’s students are looking at a future beyond high school that won’t necessarily include a four-year degree. This is a place where they can learn by doing and by creating. The district worked with local industry leaders to ensure PIC teaches the skills and tools that the trades are using right now.”

Defining PIC’s interactive style also influenced its structure. Krenner added, “It’s not a typical brick building. It has a different look and format, too. There wasn’t a model for us to follow, so we looked outside the educational system to find our ‘ah-ha’ moment.” The architects discovered their inspiration in private-sector facilities, such as Boeing in Washington State, where engineering and design teams work under one roof.

Similarly, Fabrication Hall is positioned at the core of PIC’s 83,835-sq.-ft. building where a traditional school design may place the lunchroom or commons area. PIC’s academies share the Hall where space fosters inspired thinking and hands-on learning.

The building team considered the sun’s path throughout the day when designing a two-story common space surrounded by cutting-edge laboratories and state-of-the-art equipment. Photos: Astula Inc.

Fabrication Hall

Fabrication Hall offers a 5,000-sq.-ft., two-story common space surrounded by cutting-edge laboratories and state-of-the-art equipment. The 30-ft.-high exterior wall facing north incorporates the fabricated wall systems, selected for their contribution to daylighting and energy efficiency. “It gets cold in the winter,” explained Krenner. “We wanted a material that performed better than glass. With EXTECH’s systems, we saw three times the best thermal performance that insulating glass could provide.” The dual wall system’s polycarbonate panels that provide insulating values to R8.2.

On the west elevation, the wall cantilevers, which Krenner compared to “reaching out to the community.” In contrast to schools that historically delegated industrial and engineering classes to windowless lower levels, he emphasized, “how important transparency is within, as well as without in connecting with each other and connecting with the community. This is not some dark basement. The students enjoy great views and access to light.”

Anticipating the students’ experience within the hall, the building team considered the sun’s path throughout the day. Low-sun angles in the afternoon would generate unwanted glare on work surfaces and computer screens. “To manage glare without sacrificing views or transparency, we custom-fabricated vertical sunscreens with 1 1/2-inch-thick cellular polycarbonate,” said Kevin Smith, R.A., EXTECH director of Product Application and Development. “We worked with the architects throughout the design process to meet the exact specifications. Not only did the resulting shading devices perform as intended and withstand the Wyoming winds, they added a signature design detail to PIC’s exterior aesthetic.”

Daylight extends deeply through the interior of Fabrication Hall. The sunscreens and the dual wall system help diffuse natural light and reduce solar heat gain into the building envelope. This lessens dependence on electric lighting and the associated utility costs. Krenner observed, “We get lots of daylight. Other than early morning or in the evening, we don’t even need the electric light.”

He continued, “Sustainability is very important. Although the project didn’t go for LEED, every aspect of the design was considered with intention, and sustainable principles and materials integrated throughout. The thermal envelope is above code. There are no VOCs to off gas. There is no concern for ‘sick building syndrome.’ Green design is an everyday part of work for us. This is a unique space that you don’t see at other schools. It is sun filled and large enough to build homes and solar-powered airplanes. It is the heart of the school. Everything else revolves around it and supports it. Here, [student] work is visible and so is their potential.”

Set within a 38-acre educational campus in Casper, WY, Roosevelt High School and the Pathways Innovation Center (PIC) share 126,000 sq. ft. of learning space. Photos: Astula Inc.

Roosevelt High School

Although Roosevelt High School is called “alternative,” it features a more traditional learning space than PIC. It serves a significantly smaller student body and is the smaller of the two facilities at 42,240 sq. ft. Prior to its renovation and expansion, the previous building was constructed in 1900 as an elementary school. Nearly 120 years later, the structure continues to be reimagined to benefit future generations.

The updated school’s main entry welcomes all with a two-story sunlit atrium featuring Lightwall 3440 wall systems. Strengthening the community within these window-lined walls, Roosevelt’s students and staff gather as a whole school every day. Krenner elaborated, “They eat breakfast together as staff and students. Throughout the day, they take five-minute breaks where they do five exercises for one minute each to reenergize. They champion the idea of a healthy body and a healthy mind. Mentorship also is a central part of their program.”

Natrona County School District superintendent Steve Hopkins is excited about the opportunities PIC and Roosevelt are providing county students through engaging programs that will not only help boost graduation rates, but also prepare them for their future.


— Watch time-lapse construction.

— See a virtual reality 3D model.

— Read about framing systems.

— Get rules for daylighting.

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