Faced with a growing student population, Wayzata engineering and architecture students propose building a high school addition to accommodate growth.
Like a lot schools in the west metro area, Wayzata High School is teetering on the edge of being overcrowded.
Students complain about long lines in the cafeteria, computer labs that are booked weeks in advance and hallways that transform into seas of bodies between classes.
The students in Bill Waite's civil engineering and architecture class, however, aren't just griping about the growing student population -- they're proposing ideas on how to manage it.
For their final class project of the semester, students proposed building an addition to the high school capable of accommodating more than 400 additional students. Each project considered all the details associated with planning a building, from conducting a soil analysis to water-consumption calculations.
One group of six students was selected to present its plan last month to the Wayzata school board, which is currently assessing the district's facility needs. The district is working with an engineering firm that might be asked to consider some of the factors Waite's class already has tackled.
"I was so impressed," said Sue Droegemueller, the board's vice chairwoman. "This level of work ... it was something I would expect from undergraduate architecture students -- certainly not at a high school level."
The class has been offered at Wayzata High School since 2008, and each year students tackle a final project that incorporates the various lessons of the year. Waite said the goal is to always make those projects as practical as possible. For example, in the past students have been asked to think about improving the school's athletic facilities or classroom space -- never a mall or a new Vikings stadium.
This year, the students focused on an addition to the high school, relying on their own daily experiences with swelling class sizes spurred by growth in the Plymouth area. The high school is currently 35 students over its capacity, according to a consultant's report; 3,084 students attended the high school during the 2003-04 school year; next year, 3,185 students are projected.
"On some days, I feel like I have to wait in line almost 10 minutes for food in the cafeteria," said sophomore Aidan Kennedy. "You end up being pretty rushed."
As part of the process, each group surveyed 200 students and teachers. Those survey results revealed that students also wanted larger spaces in which to learn, though the occasional jokester asked for "more tiki huts."
Inspired by a trip to the University of Minnesota, junior Mady North proposed that the addition contain at least two "active learning centers" -- large rooms designed to enhance group learning, often by having students sit in groups at round tables.
"I was really intrigued," North said of the active learning concept. "I personally see the benefit of collaborating with other students."
With the learning centers anchoring the new addition, the students went about selecting a site, settling on the east end of the high school. The teams were also instructed to delve into Plymouth's zoning ordinances to make sure the addition complied.
Each group also completed engineering calculations to help determine factors such as water runoff and structural capacity. All drawings were done on Revit, 3D software commonly used by professional architects and engineers.
Waite emphasized that the drawings were only a small part of the project.
"I don't want the kids to only be proficient technicians with the software," he said. "This is about learning all aspects of engineering and architecture. I want them to understand zoning requirements just as much as coming up with drawings."
Last week, Waite's students discussed their project with Wold Architects and Engineers, a St. Paul firm the district has hired to assess its facility needs. Since many of the students are aspiring engineers, they also quizzed the professionals about their careers.
"This project was a real eye-opener for me," said North, who is thinking about studying biomedical engineering in college. "Mr. Waite presented us with a real problem and made us think about real issues affecting Wayzata [High] not just now, but in coming years, too."
Kim McGuire • 612-673-4469