Dubbed the “Glass Castle” in 1960 when it opened, Loy Norrix High School was new and exciting for its time. Since then the school has kept its original colors, only making repairs and additions to the outside of the building. Now in 2017, Norrix is updating the exterior. Many students and alumni have anticipated the school getting some external work, and the time has come for anticipation to become reality. This outward transformation is scheduled to start this spring.
The two year project between Kalamazoo Public Schools and design firm TowerPinkster was funded by the 2013 bond issue. Norrix will be replacing windows and exterior doors, changing the appearance of many outer walls. The construction work will be split between the summers of 2017 and 2018.
The colored panels on the building will be changed from the current teal to a darker blue. The main entrance known to most as “The Tower” is also being updated. The glass will be replaced with a blue tinted glass to complement the other color changes. The vertical steel beams between the windows will be replaced with an invisible seal lock between the glass panes.
This year’s juniors and seniors will not see the finished product before they graduate. The current sophomores, however, will get a great before-and-after perspective. Sophomore Grant Emenheiser doesn’t know much about the improvements but will be here to see the end product.
“It’s cool that they’re [KPS district and TowerPinkster] trying to make a positive change to the look and feel of our school,” said Emenheiser.
TowerPinkster architect Shawn Parshall lead by project manager Jim Ross did the redesign and both are working with the Skillman Corporation construction manager to choose materials and set up the contractor bids for this project. TowerPinkster was recently voted the number one architecture firm in the nation and has worked with Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) for 15 years. TowerPinkster has worked on other projects in the district: remodeling the doors and bathrooms at Phoenix High School, a similar exterior project at Milwood Magnet Middle School, the completely new Washington Writers Academy, the new gym at Milwood Elementary School and the new technology and doors at Woods Lake Elementary School.
“[We have] worked continuously with KPS since 2001, and it’s been an incredible experience to work with schools,” said Jim Ross.
A survey was posted online from January 25th to February 12th of 2016. Faculty, students and parents were all invited to participate in the survey that helped to determine the facade changes. Out of the 449 people that took the survey, 319 people (71%) replied that the color should be changed to a darker blue. The other two options on the survey were to keep the teal or a different color. Eighty people (17.9%) selected to keep the teal while 50 (11.1%) said they would like to see another color.
With the overwhelming results of the survey, the selections committee helped to decide exactly how dark the blue could go without it looking black on the building. The outcome will be close to a navy blue in color, matching the most common color in Loy Norrix spiritwear, and it will be going in every place that currently is teal.
The replacement of color is not the only thing that will be changing around here. The hallways leading into each wing, which are virtually all glass, will no longer be that way. The bottom half of the hallways will be brick and the current glass will be replaced. The replacement windows will be safety glass that shatters into small, non-jagged pieces. The current windows shatter into large, sharp shards which is much more dangerous.
With the reduction of the number of windows in the hallways, the goal is to still keep as much natural light as possible which is a hallmark feature of the building.
“Taking daylight out of spaces has a negative effect on students,” said Alex Lee, executive director of public relations for KPS.
A study conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory shows that “Daylighting has been associated with improved mood, enhanced morale, lower fatigue and reduced eyestrain.”
With the replacement of the windows in the hallways, the classrooms will be getting new windows too. In each classroom there will be two windows that will open/close. Instead of the casement (open out) windows, they will be sliding windows. Classroom blinds will be placed inside double-paned glass.
Every classroom with windows will be packed and the items moved away from the exterior walls. This is being done so that nothing on the interior is damaged. There is still debate on how the work will be completed, whether it be from wing to wing or front to back.
The 2013 bond issue will make this project possible. The bond issue was passed by voters in 2013 and provided 62 million dollars to KPS for structural improvements to all of the buildings in the district.
“You need to understand how fortunate you are [to be a part of this community],” said Lee.
“Our community really supports our schools through these bonds,” said Ken Greschak, a parent that is a part of Loy Norrix’s parent advisory council (PAC) and a school board trustee.
Of this 62 million dollars, 9.9 million went to Norrix. This project will cost 5.5 million dollars. Kalamazoo voters, by passing the bond, are making these improvements possible.
There is concern that the school will lose some of its previous identity.
“It [the windows] is something that makes our school so unique,” continued senior Lacey Burke, “I’d like to see money spent on resources that will directly benefit the education of students at Loy Norrix instead.”
But in replacing the windows and modifying the look of the school, students get a new sense of pride in their building.
“It’d make the school more presentable and up to date,” said junior Antonio Lopez.
A by-product from this entire project is that the building becomes more energy efficient and will be much better insulated.
The transformation begins this spring and will transform the building into a new point of pride as the attitude and look of Loy Norrix change.
School board member Ken Greschak reflected on the future look of the school, saying “These improvements will be transformational, beautiful and classic.”