Last night, Ballou Senior High School’s cafeteria felt more like a movie theater on opening night—-albeit one you have to enter through metal detectors—-than a 50-year-old building with more than its share of pain.
They had gathered for a glimpse of the new Ballou: A $60.2 million facility to be built on the current football field, starting this November. Like at Dunbar High, students will stay in the current building through construction, and move in to their new digs in fall of 2014, when the old building will be demolished.
The architects—-Bowie Gridley, PGN, and Perkins + Will—-presented the concept video they’d put together to win the competition. The crowed whooped and clapped for their favorite elements: An indoor pool, a gym with an elevated track, fields that will allow people coming up 4th Street to see the school’s cherished marching band practice. The renderings showed a tall, iconic glass box at the main doors emblazoned with BALLOU KNIGHTS, a “main street” through administrative offices, a separate entrance for the vocational S.T.A.Y. programs, and an open cafeteria space with balconies around it flooded with light from floor-to-ceiling windows. Through it all was a desire to preserve the school pride that seems alive and well.
“You will now have a home and a visitors section,” said PGN’s Sean Pichon, describing the new football field, to cheers. “You can make them feel like they came to Ballou to play.”
The rest of you can’t see the video yet—-the Department of General Services declined to make it available for public consumption, saying it’s actually nothing like the final design (the architects have only been working on the project in earnest for about a month and a half, since the commission was announced). The initial vision, though, was such a dramatic departure from reality that one girl wondered during a Q&A session whether students would have to pay to attend the new school. The project manager assured her that no, Ballou would continue to be free.