like a South Beach condo.” Well, not exactly, but the person
who thus described the Albany City School District’s new Stephen
and Harriet Myers Middle School could be forgiven the hyperbole.
It’s a striking building.
Elbel Court entrance off Whitehall Road, the school is on
your right as you drive or walk in. The first thing you notice
is the long curving wall of the three-story academic wing
directly in front of you, which leads to a soaring glass-and-blue-metal
atrium at the center of the school. The gray-and-white wall
doesn’t so much curve, as . . . well, it looks like it was
stopped in the middle of an undulating movement. The atrium,
which also incorporates the main entrance, is the real attention-grabber,
however. It juts—soars—out from the front of the building.
you suddenly realize that the academic wing doesn’t directly
abut the soaring “centerpiece.” Beginning just before the
academic wing meets the atrium, there’s an abrupt shift in
architectural style that continues on the other side of it
and carries over to the rest of the school structure: The
school becomes more formal, box-shaped. The lime-green color
scheme and Bauhaus-like banks of windows, however, keep it
from seeming too boxy, and suggest a balance of play and order
that is, if you think about it, quite appropriate for a middle
complex is a bold statement, an affirmation of the future
of public education in the city of Albany.
the contentious, drawn-out process that preceded the middle
school’s construction, this boldness of purpose and design
is, frankly, a surprise. The original $176 million facilities
plan—which is a complete reworking of the city’s school system,
mixing new construction with renovations to some current buildings—was
passed by voters in December 2001. In June 2003, residents
voted for propositions relating to this new middle school,
adding, according to the school district, another “$8.75 million
to the total price tag.”
of this happened easily. Neighborhood opposition to the proposed
middle-school sites quickly emerged. Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings
had his own ideas about how to revamp Albany’s public schools,
none of which were particularly compatible with what the district
had in mind. Private “charter” schools opened that catered
to middle-school students, causing critics to question the
necessity of a third middle school.
district—with, as noted, the electoral blessing of the voters—persevered.
And so, on Aug. 25, the Myers Middle School opened with a
celebration that drew, according to the district, more than
“400 neighbors, students and parents.”
about that blue “metal” atrium, however. It’s not metal. As
architect Shawn Hamlin explains, the curved panels over the
entranceway—“a conical form, bending in two different directions”—were
late owing to a problem with the metal fabrication.
wouldn’t look so good for a grand opening, so, after some
brainstorming, it was decided to deploy a temporary covering
on the atrium. A billboard company in Buffalo made the blue
covering that will remain in place until the fabrication “glitch”
isn’t the only part of the school that’s incomplete, but,
as district communications coordinator Erica Ringewald is
quick to point out, Myers always was planned to be a “phased
about the striking nature of the design, John C. Sobiecki
says that everyone wanted the building to have a distinct
identity, and not seem like a “cookie-cutter” structure. Sobiecki
is with Cannon Design, the international firm hired to come
up with the master plan for the facilities project; he notes
that one value they worked toward was an “equality in facilities.”
In other words, whether a kid goes to Myers or one of Albany’s
two other middle schools (Hackett and Philip Livingston, both
impressive buildings), they would have similar educational
adds that they wanted to create quality public architecture,
with aesthetically pleasing features like Hackett Middle School’s
three-story atrium. They wanted, Hamlin says, to get away
from the idea of school construction aiming for the lowest
common denominator. They didn’t want to re-create what’s too
often a generic suburban experience; they wanted “swooping
forms, the colors, the conical shape” of the atrium are meant
to create a focus for the structure. The special design elements,
Hamlin hopes, will lead the students to have respect for the
a recent tour of the school, Sobiecki and Hamlin are clearly
pleased. And they should be: It’s impressive.
the main entrance is a soaring, two-story central hallway
that makes entering the school as grand an experience as boarding
a spaceship in a sci-fi film. Off this are the as-yet-unfinished
gymnasium and pool, as well as the entrance to the main administration
through the building, visible signs of pleasing, intelligent
design are everywhere. Color schemes vary from hallway to
hallway; classrooms are suffused with natural light; and security
features, like the administrative offices on each floor of
the academic wing, are low-key and, occasionally, ingenious.
(The administration outposts are strategically placed opposite
the student bathrooms.) The cafeteria is small and manageable.
(It takes three lunch periods to feed the school.) The library
is set in a large space, and probably will be very nice when
the books arrive; the computer lab is directly across from
the library. Even the cement blocks in the stairways are polished
floor of the academic wing is divided, by those aforementioned
administrative offices, into what the designers call “team
sections” to make each grade more manageable.
with the latest thinking on urban schools, the nurses’ room—when
it’s finally equipped and finished—will actually be more of
a health center; the social-worker and school-psychologist
offices are nearby.
planning is perfectly swell, but the proof is in the use.
According to principal Kimberly Wilkins, who moved over from
the closed-for-replacement School 16 (where she was awarded
“principal of the year” last year), “the kids here have done
a wonderful job” of adjusting to the new building.
and administrators came in Aug. 1, says Wilkins, so they could
have the experience of “living in the building.” The staff,
most of whom were brought in from the two other middle schools
(with a few from elementary schools), were able to get a sense
of how things would work, even through the construction was
very much still in progress.
happy with the design of the school?
word, yes. First, there’s the advantage of a new building:
“They don’t have a way they ‘used to do it.’ ”
many of the features emphasized by the planners have had their
usefulness proven in practice. The layout of the academic
wing has established, as Wilkins explains it, “a sense of
order, but not control.” It’s a subtle but useful difference,
as the kids probably shouldn’t feel like they’re in jail.
age,” she notes of the students, “they all want parameters.”
In separating the school’s sixth, seventh and eighth grades
by floor—and putting the eighth grade on the top floor—“a
natural progression” has been established from grade to grade.
sections” described by the planners and architect have become
“wings,” and the students adapted to them quickly. Wilkins
reports that “they named their own wings, and took ownership
of [these] names.”
to Wilkins describe how a middle school operates, one quickly
realizes that, at the administrative level, it’s all about
flow: getting the kids in the building in the morning, moving
them from class to class during the day, and getting them
out in the afternoon. There are 528 students at Myers, says
Wilkins, the majority of whom are bused in. About 30 to 40
kids use CDTA, and the rest walk to school.
from Wilkins’ testimony, is well-suited to maintaining flow.
Each grade has its own entrance, and only eighth graders are
privileged to use the main doors. (There’s even a separate
entrance/exit for the first-floor music room, so the kids
can board buses for band trips without going through the rest
of the school.) There is someone to meet the students at each
entrance; that way, it’s possible to gauge the general mood,
behavior and health of the kids.
about the atrium, Wilkins sees it eventually being used for
student clubs (she mentions book clubs in particular) and
into the school’s first year, and everyone seems to be still
on the same page. So far, it seems, so good. The gymnasium
is scheduled to be completed in mid-to-late October; the pool
is supposed to be finished by late November. Of course, there’s
still much up in the air. The library needs books, and all
the other unfinished, unequipped corners of the building need
to be finished and equipped.
drastically wrong with the design of the school has emerged.
The kids, we are told, like it. The administrators are happy
with its ease of operation. And most everyone in charge of
designing and building Myers Middle School is happy. As Shawn
Hamlin says, “We’re all pretty proud of this project.”