The rows of sleek, shiny lockers that once symbolized American high school life are gathering dust across the Twin Cities metro area.
In some schools, they’re going away completely.
Some students are hardly touching their lockers, opting to tote books via backpack instead of doubling back to their storage spot multiple times a day. Less time jiggling combination locks means more time socializing between classes.
Locker use was so spotty at Lakeville North High School that 500 lockers were knocked out to make room for new cybercafes. At Wayzata High School, an addition was needed to hold the expanding student body, but that addition didn’t include lockers. At Chanhassen High School, students pile their bags on metal racks outside some classrooms rather than leaving them in their lockers.
“I’d be better off spending money on coat racks,” said Chanhassen Principal Tim Dorway.
Some schools still see a need for lockers, but others say they can’t afford to dedicate hundreds of square feet to unused lockers when space is at a premium.
So, while the new addition at Wayzata includes space for lockers if they’re needed in the future, “It wouldn’t make sense to add lockers unless there was a desire from the student body to utilize those lockers,” said Principal Scott Gengler.
Technology and changing habits may force school designers to rethink the venerable banks of metal lockers that greet students when they arrive at school, said Judith Hoskens, of the Minneapolis-based architecture firm Cuningham Group, who has worked in education facility planning for 26 years.
“We will figure out a more efficient way to store what we need, when we need it, and not be so prescriptive by assuming every student needs a locker,” she said.
Fewer than 25 percent of Edina High School students use lockers, said Principal Bruce Locklear. He attributes some of that to the emergence of electronics.
Students bring laptops or iPads instead of textbooks to class, or there are Chromebooks available for checkout at school.
Wayzata High School doesn’t assign lockers to its upperclassmen anymore, and junior Ellie Olmanson doesn’t use one. “I would say maybe one out of every 100 students uses theirs,” she said.
Lockers have been student safekeeping spots for decades, and some high schools around the metro area still use them regularly. Many of the schools seeing declines in locker usage are sprawling suburban campuses.
In Wayzata, students have only nine minutes between periods — not enough time for many to rush across school and up or down floors for a locker stop.
Some schools ban backpacks in classrooms, fearing contraband might be inside them.
There haven’t been any safety issues at Stillwater Area High, and students can bring coats and backpacks into classrooms, said Principal Rob Bach. But that’s partly why the school is keeping its lockers, he said — if the school ever needs to ban backpacks in classrooms, the option is there.
Lockers can be pricey investments. In a large installation, lockers could run from $50 for a basic one to $100 for a heavy-duty unit like an athletic locker, said John Dale, an architect at Harley Ellis Devereaux in Los Angeles and the chairman of the committee on architecture for education for the American Institute of Architects.
Alexandria Area High School, which the Cuningham Group designed for its fall 2014 opening in Alexandria, Minn., boasts state-of-the-art features such as a spacious common area with tables and chairs and a set of stairs that doubles as a bleacher seating area.
Still, lockers were installed there because of the school’s ban on backpacks in classrooms — the bags on the floor would have gotten in the way of room flexibility, said the school’s principal, Chad Duwenhoegger.
Inventive high school designs are starting to mirror college environments, which don’t feature lockers, architect Dale said.
“The differences are starting to be a little subtler where the districts are progressive and they’re prepared to say, ‘Yes, these should be inspiring environments for students to hang out and learn and socialize,’ ” he said.
Students still use locker banks, even if they’re not undoing combination locks. Instead, they gather there.
One morning last month, Chanhassen senior Greta Mertes stashed her coat and keys in a plain locker at the start of the school day, but hauled everything else she needed for the rest of the day in her backpack.
Around her, groups of teens chatted, some sitting with their backs against the lockers, before the bell rang.
At Wayzata, senior JJ Heflin and his friends share lockers, but not for books. They keep lawn chairs in them.
The teens like to beat the rush in the school parking lot, so every morning about 7 a.m., they get to school, grab chairs from their lockers and relax by the locker banks until it’s time for class.
“A lot of people seem envious, but all they have to do is bring their own chairs,” Heflin said. “It’s not very difficult.”