Design Firm’s Images Show Potential New High School Facade and Forum

A rendering of the design for the high school building’s exterior on the corner of 42nd and Davenport Streets, labeled on the Coakley Williams Construction website as “courtesy of DLR Group | Bowie Gridley (Architect).”

Digital renderings displayed online show a new exterior to the high school and an expanded Forum, major parts of a plan to renovate the building. The images, on the website of the firm Coakley Williams Construction, depict an expanded Forum without its current carpeting and a modern, green exterior to the building. It will grow in size, with 25,000 square feet being added across three floors, according to the webpage.

The renderings are not necessarily final, Head of School Russell Shaw said in an email to the Bit. The school’s Board of Trustees will be meeting later this fall to discuss these plans and their feasibility, Shaw said, and he plans to update the community in late October. Captions for the images indicate that they were made by the Bowie Gridley architecture company.

Administrators plan to have classrooms and hallways renovated, the Bit reported in February. There will also be a “student success center” and a “new security vestibule,” the Coakley Williams webpage says.

The renderings depict an expanded building with a full glass facade on the side facing Davenport Street. The building has a more modern look, with arches on the glass in varying shades of green that match GDS’ logo. There also appear to be plants along the sidewalk and arranged vertically on the building.

Students shown the images in interviews for the Bit said they liked the design of the exterior. Sophomore Wyatt Grace told the Bit that “the outside adds a new modern design to the building, which is a good contrast to the old brick design that we have here. It’s a good mix between the new and the old GDS.”

An image of a new design for the Forum.

Most of the seven students interviewed said the Forum rendering looked uncomfortable without the same carpeting. “I think it’d be pretty cool to have it newer and cleaner, but it shouldn’t be too robotic because the steps in the Forum look like wood, and it does not seem very comfortable,” sophomore Kate Toufanian said. “It looks more modern and more similar to the lower school.”

Junior Rand Poellnitz, the Student Staff Council vice president, said the visual rendering of the new Forum design “doesn’t match the current vibe, but I like it.” Echoing concerns of other students interviewed, he said, “it looks nice as long as it’s still carpeted, still comfortable. That’s what’s important to me—the comfort of the student body.”

Junior Sala Higgins was skeptical of the need for an expansion. “We mostly fit in the Forum just fine,” she said.

A statement posted on the GDS website in March explained that more space would be necessary “in order to have more—and better—student-centered spaces as well as increased opportunities for cross-curricular collaboration and innovation.” A renovation is needed now due to increased course offerings, according to the statement.

The image of the interior shows a “king-size Forum,” as jazz teacher Brad Linde described it in an interview. The Forum is expanded to the second floor, and rather than carpeting, it appears that the steps are wooden, with cushions on top.

Linde and high school counselor Gabrielle Holder each recalled seeing at least one of the renderings at a faculty meeting in February. Teachers interviewed by the Bit after that meeting talked about plans they had heard to increase classroom space and change department offices.

The high school’s current facade by the circle on Davenport Street. Photo by Hercules Zhang.

Shaw wrote in his recent email to the Bit that the renderings provided on the Coakley Williams website are “conceptual renderings only of what might be possible” as they continue to plan the details of the high school renovation, including “timing, potential disruption to learning, cost, zoning requirements and more.”

The Coakley Williams webpage also says that if the project goes ahead, it will aim for LEED certification, which requires globally recognized standards that ensure the project occurs in an environmentally conscious way. Coakley Williams has worked with many private schools in the D.C. area, including Sidwell Friends, Holton Arms, Landon, Maret and others, according to its website.

Several students and teachers said that the new design of the Forum looks more like the lower/middle school building than the current design.

“I like the use of foliage on the exterior,” English teacher Benjamin Stein said. “It seems like it probably is going to fit in well with the lower/middle school.” Stein, who is new this school year, hadn’t heard about the renovation plans prior to an interview with the Bit.

“It feels like it’s in sync with the other building,” Holder agreed. “The hallways might be a little smaller, but we’re going to get bigger classrooms.”

Reflecting on the images, senior Lucy Mezey said, “I think it’s hard because this is the GDS that I know and I love, but I also have so many critiques about the building.” Every time she sees the current building, Mezey said, “I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s an ugly building,’ but I also love it. It’s hard to accept a change to its whole infrastructure.”