Architectural Record: Common Ground High School by Gray Organschi Architecture

Cedar rainscreen cladding and a standing-seem metal roof recal agricultural builds and make Common Ground’s new structure at home on the bucolic campus, which includes farm animals and a one-acre vegetable garden. Photo (c) David Sundberg

Few high schools, let alone those in cities, have hens, pigs, and sheep, a one-acre vegetable garden, or an extensive network of hiking trails. But Common Ground, in New Haven, Connecticut, is far from ordinary. The mission of this 200-student charter high school, which sits at the edge of a wooded, 1,800-acre state park, “is to instill environmental literacy in urban kids,” says Melissa Spear, executive director.

Since 1997, when the school was founded, Common Ground has expanded several times, always by adding onto its base of operations—a barnlike, wood clapboard structure referred to as the hilltop building because of its location on the steeply sloping campus. But about eight years ago, with its student body still growing, and with more summer, after-school, and community programs run by its parent nonprofit, Common Ground’s management team and board began to consider another expansion, issuing a request for proposals in 2011.

Gray Organschi Architecture, a New Haven– based firm known for its attention to craft, decided to compete for the project because of an affinity for the school’s educational vision. “Common Ground’s values were close to home,” says principal Alan Organschi. Although several firms that specialize in K–12 construction were also in the running, the selection committee chose Gray Organschi, in large part because of its encompassing view of environmentally responsible design. “Their interest in sustainability goes beyond merely reducing operational energy,” says Spear. “They also consider the materials and where they come from.”

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