Transforming an Aging High School Library into a Modern, Collaboration Lab

Transforming an Aging High School Library into a Modern, Collaboration Lab

As a public high school that offers a rigorous college prep curriculum, University High School (UHS) serves students in grades 9-12 who are committed to success in high school and beyond. Through a partnership with Wayne State University, all of UHS’ seniors attend class on the WSU campus and selected high school students earn college credits via dual enrollment.

Wanting to make better use of its aging library space, UHS decided to transform it into a modern, collaboration lab. “The school’s biggest focus was on collaboration and flexibility, and that’s reflected in the design of the new space,” said Claire McNaught, Interior Designer at MiEN, which came highly recommended for its wide breadth of school modernization offerings and products.

Working mostly through the dealer-designer, MiEN completed the project over a 6-month span in 2021. In her role, McNaught helped develop the specifications for products, fabrics and pricing. For example, when the dealer-designer requested a specific balancing stool, based on its work on previous school projects, MiEN recommended an alternate that better met UHS’ needs.

The New Way of Learning

Made up of one large space plus a few attached breakout rooms, UHS’ collaboration space accommodates various learning approaches and is color-coded to help students navigate to the right place. Most of the tables are configured for group work and include both large surface tables that seat 4-6 people and individual tables.

“Right now, they’re configured in a pod of six,” said McNaught, “but since they’re individual tables, they can also be rearranged and repositioned as needed.” The seating arrangements reflect the district’s overall goal of giving students choice and flexibility in how they learn. “Teaching and learning have definitely shifted,” she added, “and that’s supporting the new way of learning.”

The Flex Lite Pac-Man, for example, is colorful modular foam furniture that rests directly on the floor. Lightweight and ultra-configurable, it’s available in many different vinyl fabrics and can be pushed together to form a snake configuration. The furniture helps show a pop of color and ties in with UHS’ school colors. The space also features numerous soft seating pieces, wall-mounted marker boards and mobile marker boards that can be moved around from group to group. These and other elements support UHS’ goal of creating a very collaborative, flexible space.

Incorporating Technology

Because it redid the library flooring as part of the renovation, UHS was able to install floor power outlets throughout its new collaboration space. “They wanted to make the space future-proof and were thinking ahead in terms of that power integration,” said McNaught.

By infusing elements like moveable marker boards and split laminate desks into the design, UHS has created a space that reflects the modern workplace. The design is also flexible enough to accommodate the traditional lecture, but can be easily reconfigured to support other, more collaborative activities.

And because no one knows what the educational setup will look like in 10 years, UHS now has a space that can be adapted as new shifts, trends and opportunities emerge. “We like to give schools multiple different options on how they’re going to teach, which changes from year-to-year and even day-to-day,” said McNaught. “We don’t know what education is going to look like in 2032, but this furniture needs to last until then.”

Dare to Dream

To schools or districts looking to create more collaborative, modern learning spaces, McNaught said to start by understanding how you want that space to function:

– What do you want it to look and feel like?

– What are your specific needs?

– What style of furniture do you like (e.g., traditional or modern)?

– And, what colors and finishes do you want (basic, neutral, super funky)?

Then, solicit student feedback before buying anything. “This furniture is going to need to last so you want to be sure that the students will like it,” said McNaught, who also tells schools not to be afraid to dream a little during this process. “It never hurts to start with your dream and then you can always pare it back if needed.”

Products Used