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Design Thought Leader

A Total Transformation: Benjamin E. Mays High School

In the first of this new three-part series. Barbara Crum, Principal and Market Sector Leader for K-12 at Perkins+Will, discusses the transformation of Benjamin E. Mays High School in Southwest Atlanta. Perkins+Will won an Atlanta Urban Design Commission Award for the project in June 2012.

If you’ve ever been involved in a home renovation then you know that sometimes it’s easier and less expensive to knock a home down and start over than to substantially renovate it. The same holds true for commercial/institutional design and renovation.

Barbara Crum, Principal and Market Sector Leader for K-12 at Perkins+Will

But the opportunity to be able to take an existing school building and transform it into a state-of-the-art facility that an entire community can be proud of makes the extra challenges worth it.

Benjamin E. Mays High School, part of the Atlanta Public School System, was a 340,000-square-foot facility, constructed in 1981. The interior spaces were dark, cramped and uninviting. One of our goals was to incorporate a lot of natural light in all of the learning spaces and open up the school. Studies have shown that natural light is beneficial to learning with the added benefit of greatly reducing energy costs.

The entry lobby of Mays High School prior to renovation

The lobby of Mays High School after the 18-month renovation, transformed into a welcoming space filled with natural light

We demolished the entire entry lobby and relocated the main entry so now everyone enters through a glass-enclosed atrium, located between the academic building and the athletic/arts complex.  The academic wings can be closed off for use of the gym or theater after hours. Visitors, students and faculty first walk though a landscaped area under new canopies with inviting seating areas prior to entering a light-filled space.

A before shot of the cafeteria, a cramped and dark space

The new cafeteria, a much more inviting space for students and staff to eat lunch

The gym, auditorium and locker rooms were renovated and a new practice gym was construction. A new two-story media center was added as well as a new kitchen and cafeteria.

The media center prior to renovation

An after shot of the media center

The construction took a year and a half, during which the school was temporarily relocated. The grand opening celebration was held in January 2012 for the new Mays High School, named the #1 high school in the Atlanta Public School System by the Georgia Department of Education.


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