Since its founding in 2014, Great Lakes Academy Charter School (GLA) has been a beacon for the community it serves. Now, with its ambitious expansion, GLA’s mission is reaching farther than ever, finally with enough space for their entire community to thrive.
The project creates a welcoming new entry and identity for the school while celebrating the architectural and cultural legacies of the site. Set back from the street, a new one-story contemporary glass link connects the existing 1911 three-story academic building to a former Catholic Church, which is carefully rehabilitated to serve a bright new future as a beacon of education.
Students and visitors now enter through a welcoming landscaped courtyard, into an intimate space carefully inserted between the existing structures—designed to connect, both people and the separate building types, with a timeless aesthetic meant to last for generations. High-performance floor-to-ceiling glass, thermally broken curtainwall framing systems, and internally-lit skylights fill the space with natural light.
Atop the new glass link, a green roof is designed to reduce groundwater runoff, improve building thermal insulation, and lessen the urban heat island. As a bonus, it creates a pleasant view from the classrooms above. The gentle pitch of the roof allows for glimpses of the green roof from the ground, serving as a tool for teaching environmental stewardship.
With twice the physical footprint, scholars are now enriched beyond core subjects, with access to programs such as art, music, basketball, volleyball, soccer, and nutrition which were previously prohibited due to lack of space.
Under the soaring ceiling of the former church, scholars exercise and compete in their new gymnasium, on a regulation-sized basketball court, volleyball court, and climbing wall. When the gym is not in use, a new stage and art room-turned-green room give scholars a facility to host theatrical, music, and dance performances. The new cafeteria and serving lines are separated from the gym by a sliding curtain, and the new commercial kitchen will enable GLA to operate as a Designated Food Authority, preparing and serving over 600 healthy breakfast and lunch meals to students every day, as well as a food service demonstration area that the school and community will use for food-service training.
Around the expanded campus, protected spaces are designed to support learning and encourage exploration with nature. With places to sit incorporated throughout, teachers can now hold outdoor classes, families can socialize before and after school, and students can run and play in safe areas. Natural elements like logs, stumps, and boulders from a nearby Midwestern quarry, supplement traditional play equipment and furniture, giving scholars places to convene, climb, and exercise bodies and imaginations.
GLA’s expansion project extends opportunities well beyond the school's scholars and staff, serving as an incubator for education, professional development, and vocational training for the school community and the South Chicago neighborhood at large. The facility and campus are intentionally designed to leverage its resources to the greatest extent possible, providing access to the community on the weekends and evenings, when school is not in session.
The entrances to the campus are pervious and welcoming. Indoor academic spaces can quickly be secured via a set of doors in the new glass entry link, allowing flexible shared spaces—such as the gymnasium, kitchen, and restrooms—to host various professional development, community programs, and extracurricular activities after school hours.