Beecher Hills Elementary School – Addition and Modifications

Beecher Hills Elementary School has been actively serving the Cascade community of Atlanta for over 60 years. Bordered by the wooded Lionel Hampton Beecher Preserve and new Southwest Connector Trail, this neighborhood school fosters the collaboration of students, parents and the community to provide a safe and supportive learning environment.
Designed by known Atlanta architect, A. Thomas Bradbury, the school opened in 1959. Eventually the school was modified and expanded to accommodate the community’s changing educational needs. The recent addition and modification sought to modernize the facility, with an emphasis on reorganizing and reconnecting the main heart of the building.

Design Challenge

Adding to an existing school is never easy. However, adding to a school that was designed by a well-known architect on an atypical site proved to be a unique challenge for a few reasons. Bradbury was the architect for the current Georgia Governor’s mansion, Atlanta’s Yaarab Shrine Temple and 1965 Georgia Achieves Building. Originally designed for natural ventilation and openness, the school faced many problems after several renovations. A classroom expansion and courtyard infill changed the facility’s organization and character. Needed improvements were made over the years, but those only seemed to compound the organizational and circulation problems the school faced. The challenge the design team faced was not only where to locate the new gymnasium, but also how to improve core operational spaces and circulation. By placing the gymnasium on the backside and taking advantage of the topography, the gym offers an open and playful expansion for the students. Additionally, the gym allows borrowed light and views into the media center, which was previously a dark, windowless space. Internally, the Cafeteria was previously closed off internally, accessible only through outside doors. By relocating it to the front of the building, a new serving line was able to be provided off the existing kitchen. Providing new internal circulation aligned the Cafeteria with the Media Center and Gymnasium, making these the heart and hub of the school. Additionally, a new entry vestibule was created under the existing entry awing, efficiently improving school access and security.

Physical Context

Situated atop a hill/ridge in the back of the Beecher Hills neighborhood, the school rests within the Southeast corner of Lionel Hampton-Beecher Preserve, part of an overall 102-acre undeveloped property of a largely mature forest and recently added multi-use trails. Edged by a tributary feeding the North Utoy Creek along the west, the building is nestled atop the wooded site with the surrounding grades falling sharply away. With the use of Stone Mountain granite, ribbon windows and a precast plank structural system, the school’s aesthetic complements its unique, natural setting. Due to the tight site constraints, surrounding hardwood trees and steep topography, the school was challenged on how to expand the facility to meet their growing needs. The expansion could only slightly disrupt the surrounding tree canopy and facility access without impacting the surrounding neighborhood or adjoining preserve. The new addition takes advantage of the existing topography, stepping down along the rear of the existing building. Utilizing this location, the new gymnasium improves the facility circulation by providing direct access to the lower level of the existing classroom wing and engages the underutilized playfield for student activity. The addition intervenes onto the existing site as minimally and efficiently as possible. Utilizing the existing topography, framed by the surrounding nature preserve and tree canopy, results in a new expansion that engages the site but also feels like a natural extension of the original facility and site.