Baltimore School for the Arts and California Nature Center to Receive 2009 Architectural Awards from AASA

January 28, 2009

Amy Vogt


ARLINGTON, Va. - A public high school for the arts in Baltimore and a nonprofit nature center in Newport Beach, Calif., will take home top honors in the American Association of School Administrators’ 2009 Architectural Awards contest. The awards will be presented on Feb. 20 at AASA’s 2009 National Conference on Education in San Francisco.

Located in a 1924-high rise in the historic neighborhood of Mount Vernon, the Baltimore School for the Arts is the recipient of the Walter Taylor Award. The design team restored and updated a brownstone facility of three separate multistory buildings into learning spaces where natural daylight filters in, even in difficult-to-access interior spaces and into lower-level art studios. The new school was given a “heart” with the addition of a new centralized library that is a shared space for all, and the internal space was reorganized and expanded to improve the links between old and new.

Completed over four years, the result is state-of-the-art facilities that incorporate the historic charm of original features -- a brownstone entry, a cantilevered, circular stairway and unusual multipaned circular windows. What was once a narrow, shadowy alleyway between two buildings is now a bright, inviting corridor linking the school and the new 10,000-square-foot dance studio. An unused, lower-level swimming pool was converted into a sculpture studio, and a ballroom was turned into an auditorium that is used by the school and community.

Exterior windows provide natural light and allow the community to see what’s happening inside. The renovations and additions accommodate an increase of enrollment from 315 to 375 students and an expansion of its after-school arts programs to serve over 700 elementary and middle school children. Support for the project came from the school’s volunteer board; private fundraising accounted for nearly 60 percent of the $25 million in construction costs. The Baltimore addition and renovation was designed by Cho Benn Holback & Associates of Baltimore.

Across the continent in southern California, the Environmental Nature Center received the Shirley Cooper Award. This nonprofit facility offers hands-on nature activities for roughly 16,000 students each year.

Despite a limited budget, the new museum/learning center is a net-zero facility that experiences a 95 percent savings in energy costs through the use of photovoltaic solar panels on the rooftop. Water is conserved and treated through the use of retention ponds, and storm water in landscaped areas is managed so that more of it is returned to the ground and diverted from city storm drains. In addition, drought-tolerant plant selections and waterless urinals and low-flow fixtures were selected.

Earlier this year, the environmentally sustainable design of the ENC, created by LPA Inc., also earned it a LEED Platinum status from the U.S. Green Building Council -- the highest achievable rating.

“Simple green strategies, such as operable windows, building orientation and building forms work together to allow the spaces to be naturally conditioned, eliminating the need for heating and cooling systems,” said Jim Brady, executive director of America’s Schoolhouse Council, and facilitator of the jury. “The ENC is a great example of the complexities of site, environment and building that come together in a powerful yet simple way to provide a rich experience in learning.”

The Shirley Cooper and Walter Taylor Awards recognize architects for excellence in educational facilities planning, design and renovation. Winners are chosen by a jury panel of representatives from the sponsoring organizations: AASA, the American Institute of Architects and the Council of Educational Facility Planners, International.

Also honored will be the leaders of the two schools: Superintendent Andres Alonso of Baltimore, Md., and executive director Bo Glover of Newport Beach. Nine citation honorees will also be recognized.

The citation winners are Aycock auditorium renovation at University of North Carolina at Greensboro, designed by Gantt Huberman Architects with Holzman Moss Architecture, Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago International Charter School: Ralph Ellison, designed by OWP/P, Chicago, Ill.; The Forbush School for Autism, Hunt Valley, Md., designed by Cho Benn Holback & Associates, Baltimore, Md.; Lawrence High School, Lawrence, Mass.; designed by Flansbaugh Associates, Boston, Mass.; Marco Antonio Firebaugh High School, Lynwood, Calif., designed by LPA Inc., Irvine, Calif.; The Mother’s Club Family Learning Center, Pasadena, Calif., designed by Harley Ellis Devereaux, Los Angeles, Calif.; Oak Ridge High School, Oak Ridge, Tenn., designed by Overland Park, Kan.; Phelps High School, Washington, D.C., designed by Fanning/Howey Associates, Alexandria, Va.; Watertown-Mayer Elementary School, Watertown, Mass., designed by Cuningham Group Architecture, P.A., Minneapolis, Minn.

The number of entries to the contest this year was 61; 48 firms were represented, according to Lori Vines, who oversees the project for AASA.

The designs of the winning schools, including the citation winners, will be on display at the 2009 National Conference on Education, Feb. 19-21, in San Francisco.

An online photo gallery of the Environmental Nature Center can be viewed at


About AASA
AASA (, founded in 1865, is the professional organization for more than 13,000 educational leaders across the United States. AASA’s mission is to support and develop effective school system leaders who are dedicated to the highest quality public education for all children. AASA’s major focus is standing up for public education