Originally designed by A.J. Gibson in 1908 and located in one of Missoula’s oldest neighborhoods, Hellgate High School enjoys a rich architectural heritage. However, the school had been remodeled and expanded several times over its lifetime and the original design clarity was lost. Multiple, non-centralized, non-supervised entrances created security concerns. Meanwhile the dilapidated heating and structural systems were in dire need of replacement and upgrades.
Funded by a county schools bond, the Hellgate High School Remodel has brought new life to this aging school in Missoula’s core. The project goals were three-fold: to carve out a new heart for the school by moving the library and commons to the center, to increase safety and wayfinding by developing an identifiable main entry adjacent to the reception and administration areas, and to extend the life of the building by replacing the heating system and reinforcing the inadequate structure. Construction occurred over two years, during which time the building remained fully occupied.
The existing central service courtyard was tapped for the new library location. By constructing a roof over the courtyard, the library takes on a dramatic lofty double height spacial character worthy of its occupants. Tree-like columns support the new roof and light monitors, while alluding to the familiar metaphor of growth and expansion through knowledge. Wood slat soffits, bright furniture, and bold signage add to the dynamic design language of the space. Three new light-filled science classrooms occupy the library’s previous location.
Modern schools are more porous and flexible than in the past and dedicated cafeteria rooms – which are only used for an hour or two per day – no longer make sense. The Hellgate School Remodel addresses this by creating an open, light-filled commons area adjacent to one of the main circulation corridors which is used for studying and gathering as well as having lunch. With multiple seating options and ample people-watching opportunity, the commons have become a space where students want to be. A brand new, but much smaller cafeteria and kitchen now serves the commons. Knight Hall, a state-of the-art 70-person lecture space was also carved out of the void left by the dissolved cafeteria.
Improving school safety and wayfinding was another critical goal of the remodel. Administrative offices were consolidated and relocated to provide oversight and supervision at the new single entrance. Students and visitors are now greeted by school staff in the broad entry vestibule which opens to the major corridor lined by common areas. Hallways were broadened and dead-ends eliminated. A two story connection at the south end of the library was added to connect the two separate ends of the historic horseshoe shaped building, vastly improving circulation. On the exterior, crosswalks and a new dropoff zone were added to increase pedestrian safety. The new entry is signaled with an exterior steel awning and three red support columns which reference the lances held by joisting knights, the school’s mascot.
Much of the $20 million dollar budget was allocated to deferred maintenance such as roof repairs, structural upgrades, and a complete replacement of the mechanical system. These upgrades included new high efficiency boilers, new ventilation ducts to every classroom, new LED lighting, and steel brace lateral reinforcements. Because of this work, Missoula Public Schools’ energy bills have been drastically reduced, while student and teacher comfort has improved.
Hellgate High School, a Missoula architectural landmark, has served the community for over 100 years. The recent remodel maintains location, architecture and history while providing an opportunity to upcycle an early 20th-century building into a green, sustainable school providing 21st-century education. The Hellgate High Remodel is an education showcase and model for the community, region and nation.