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New Mitchell High School design features ‘classic’ front design

Neoclassical Revival style speaks to strong community history of education, superintendent says

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The front of the proposed new Mitchell High School features a Neoclassical Revival style, which will add a timeless characteristic to the facade, as well as evoke characteristics such as strength and longevity, say school officials and designers.
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MITCHELL — The front entrance to the proposed new Mitchell High School building makes an impression.

The front-facing portion of the new building, which is expected to be erected on the west side of Capital Street across the street from the current Mitchell High School building, features a classic look featuring concrete steps leading up to a columned facade.

It almost has the look of Greek or Roman structure, a style that has been used on buildings for decades on college campuses and for government buildings. And if that portion of the proposed plan goes unchanged, it will greet students and staff when the new high school building is completed.

The style of the building front was not an accident, said Joe Graves, superintendent of the Mitchell School District. The school district building committee was looking for a design that would evoke the strength and enduring nature of a strong public education system, and designers delivered with the submitted plans.

“It tries to communicate the heritage that we have in education in general. It tries to be inspirational,” Graves told the Mitchell Republic. “Education is important, meaningful, and something to aspire to, and it’s something we’re hoping to show with the design.”

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Robin Miller, manager architect for Schemmer, an architecture firm based out of Omaha, Nebraska with offices in Sioux Falls, said the chance to grant the new high school building with a stately and unique frontage came when it was decided the best place to construct the new building was with its front facing Capital Street across the street from where the current high school building sits.

It was not the first choice for Miller, who is heading up the design phase of the project, but logistics suggested it was the best choice given the current layout of the campus and the restrictions that came along with it.

But as is often the case with building design, Miller said the change opened the door for something unique.

“So we focused on the other side of the street. We were looking at both sides but had to give up on the east side and went to the west,” Miller said.

Miller said the building would be set back far enough from Capital Street that the front entrance of the building could face east, allowing for an extended frontage that could welcome students, staff and visitors with a classic look. Miller noted that there were design elements already in place that would lend themselves well to an old-style look.

The style he went with is known as Neoclassical Revival, a style that was heavily in vogue from as far back as the late 1890s until the 1940s, with an especially active period from 1920 to 1929. It was directly inspired by the Beaux-Arts style and the Columbian Exposition at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. The style tends to include the features of classical symmetry, full-height porch with columns and temple front, and various classical ornament such as dentil cornices.

Miller said the style was recommended by the building committee, and he agreed that the choice creates a timelessness in the design. The appearance will appear classical even as it ages well into the future.

The construction of a new high school is usually a once-in-a-generation event, and giving the building a classical look acknowledges the importance of the building now and in the future, Miller said.

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The style also exhibits the ideals of strength and stability, Miller said, characteristics that suggest longevity. It gives the appearance that the building has been there a long time and will continue to serve the district well into the future.

“Neoclassical Revival is a timeless style. It won’t get dated,” Miller said. “This really is history and in everybody’s mind it will allow them to harken back to a good experience in their education. It’s a tie to your history.”

Other features

The Mitchell Board of Education got its first real look at the proposed designs for the new high school building at its most recent regular meeting Monday, June 13. As such, the board and several members of the audience pressed Miller about various features of the design, including the strength of its security features and its location across Capital Street from its main parking lot.

The board also got the unfortunate news that, thanks to rising construction costs and inflation, the design was approximately $20 million over budget, setting the stage for what are likely to be cutbacks to the proposal that will keep the project within its budget.

But those who spoke at the meeting seemed generally pleased with the front design and the aesthetics of the building. Graves agreed, but said there were also other features that he and the committee were glad to see finally taking shape.

“I think it has several things. The classrooms are somewhat larger and that’s a need we’ve had,” Graves said. “The instructional models have changed over the years, and there are different instructional needs. The area for activities and for physical education and practice is much enhanced from what we’ve had, and that’s been another long standing need we’ve had for many years.”

The other facet that he believes is popular with students and staff is having the high school program back under one roof, with the new design connecting Mitchell High School with the current Mitchell Career & Technical Education Academy.

“For the last few years we’ve had two locations for the high school, and (the committee) was looking forward to getting back to one facility,” Graves said.

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Next steps

Now that the initial designs are in, the building committee will look to pare down the plans in order to make its roughly $42 million budget. Graves said the committee, which now includes Mitchell Board of Education president Deb Olson, will begin meeting every two weeks to continue their work on what they feel can be cut and what is too crucial to leave out.

“Our main focus is going to be how to get this back to where we can make it work, and how do we do that?” Graves said.

As the committee works on the problem, Miller and Schemmer will work with them to produce alternate designs that fit with the committee’s requests. Miller said once he knows the direction the committee wants to head, he can get down to work producing those designs.

“I’ll take my directions from them,” Miller said.

Graves said he doesn’t expect any alternative designs to be ready for the next board meeting Monday, June 27, but he said the committee will have started discussing the issue and charting a path that will help the district construct a building that will serve its high school students well into the 21st century.

The initial plans are a good start, he said. It’s just going to take more work, and some hard decisions, to make the building a reality.

“I think (the plans) are well-designed, it provides everything we need. We have included a lot of input from the teachers early on and we’re still collecting (data),” Graves said. “I’m pretty pleased with them overall. If we hadn’t had this odd disruption of the costs we’d have been in good shape. That’s going to be the issue right now — how to move forward with a plan that will still allow us to meet our obligations.”

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at ekaufman@mitchellrepublic.com.
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