Designed by SMP Architects in collaboration with SRK Architects, the school was built for the School District of Philadelphia as a turnkey project by AP/BSI Construction, a joint venture. Responding directly to community desires for smaller learning environments and green design, the project achieved LEED Platinum Certification – the first public high school in the United States to receive this recognition – by the incorporation of a number of key sustainable strategies. Rain water harvesting, green roofs, geothermal HVAC and hot water systems, extensive daylighting, an energy efficient building envelope and a landscape design incorporating salvaged demolition materials from the urban site all contributed to making this school green. With thoughtful programming and layout, the original proposed square footage was reduced by 25%. By building less area while still meeting programmatic requirements, the development team was able to afford the initial costs of energy efficient building systems and extensive landscaping.
The site, viewed by the adjacent Fishtown and Kensington neighborhoods as a vast wasteland, was a barrier to developing any sense of community between the two. It ultimately became a dumping ground and a favorite spot for drug dealing. The new school contributed greatly to reversing the area’s downward spiral. Gardens in front of the school have become a park for local families. The playing field and school facilities are available to the neighbors and the building regularly hosts community events.
The transparency and openness of the building design reinforces the initial concept of breaking down barriers. From the entry garden, there is a dynamic view through the lobby and library out to the school garden in the back. From the second floor corridor one can look from the upper walkway down to the lobby or out to the second floor green roof. From the dance studio one sees both the EL and the school’s landscaped garden.
KCAPA was selected by the Environmental Protection Agency as the best example of sustainable site strategies in the USA for Earth Day 2011. Approximately half of the roof areas are green roofs. Rainfall from a significant percentage of the remaining roof area is harvested for reuse in the building. The rain gardens at the front of the building dramatically demonstrate that this precious open area, located between the elevated rail line and the building, is both a beautiful garden of local plants and a way to absorb rain water.
Porous paving is used for parking areas, which serves only a percentage of staff. This reduction in parking worked because staff, students and teachers carpool, bike and take one of the many modes of public transportation adjacent to the site. The most dramatic change has been the revitalization of the Berks El Station. KCAPA has made the neighborhood – and the station - a safer place to be.
The design work SMP Architects did for KCAPA and the School District of Philadelphia was transformative. Every classroom has natural light streaming through that creates a calming effect, but most importantly sends the message that KCAPA is a place for learning. All children should have a school like KCAPA.
Assistant Superintendent, School District of Philadelphia and former Principal of KCAPA
Because the design of the project responded not only to the school community but also to the neighborhood in which it is located, it has been embraced by everyone. More significantly, the school construction has sparked other revitalization projects in the community.
Positive effects of the school have spread to the adjacent Shissler Recreation Center’s which was renovated to incorporate green storm water strategies similar to those found on the school site. A Mural Arts project on nearby Norris Street tells the story of the Delaware watershed. Perhaps most importantly, student performance has greatly increased and truancy has declined. As a dramatic testimonial to the importance this project has become in the community, neighbors, students, teachers and friends of the school joined together for an Earth Day of Service at the school.