Making the Grade

Jan. 18, 2006
Technology fuels curriculum at Florida school

By David Weiss

With a name like the Treasure Coast, this pleasant region of Florida facing the Atlantic didn’t need any more jewels. It got a new one nonetheless, in the form of a forward-looking school called the Clark Advanced Learning Center (CALC).

An outstanding example of what becomes possible when lawmakers and educators get on the same page, the CALC ( in Stuart, FL, is a joint high school and college facility where technology is central to the design and the curriculum. The result of a $6.6 million allocation by the Florida Legislature, the school is a high-concept, multipurpose facility that serves 11th and 12th grade students of the Martin County School District, students at Indian River Community College (IRCC), and the local business community.

“The CALC truly tries to look at the effective integration of technology in the learning process,” says Paul O’Brien, dean of Institutional Technology at IRCC, whose Chastain Campus serves as the home of the CALC. “It’s not just technology for technology’s sake: It’s being used in a way that’s tailored the way a student wants it. A lot of times when schools say they have technology, they mean that there’s a computer lab where students spend a few hours a week. This is about leveraging what’s out there and bringing it to bear on the instructional process, no matter what the subject.”

Every one of the just 200 public school students who makes it into this career-oriented facility is supplied with a wireless-enabled laptop, and can earn high school or college credit toward majors in subjects such as digital media, entrepreneurship/E-commerce, medical professions, and eco-technology. “This school is all about information - accessing it, managing it, and creating a tool to utilize knowledge,” explains Joe Sorci, AIA, designer and principal-in-charge at Florida Architects (, the project’s architectural firm. “Today, everyone is using information as a tool, and that’s really what has affected the classroom environment.”

With a heavy emphasis on collaborative, project-based learning, CALC contains a thoroughly planned AV infrastructure including simultaneous media via two-way interactive video, complete presentation systems in every classroom or common area, and a well-equipped video/graphics lab. A group of students charged with the mission of building a new boat in Stuart, for example, would be expected to make use of webconferencing to consult with boat builders in Denmark and California, or produce a video presentation using virtual sets.

Set on 11.5 acres just off the serene waters bordering the IRCC campus, the 32,600-square-foot CALC belies its sturdy build with intriguing angles and liberal use of glass. Here, function unabashedly follows form. “This is a design from the inside out,” Sorci says. “It was based specifically around the most supportive environment for this type of educational program. It looks like what it looks like, and we were more concerned about how it functions than how it looks.”

Built to sustain 154 mph hurricane winds, the school is strengthened with a reinforced masonry and concrete vertical frame, steel trusses, a solid deck under the standing seam metal roof, and laminated safety glazing on the windows. However, the CALC is constructed not just to withstand the environment, but also to work with it. “We tried to use as many green building materials as possible, such as natural linoleum and recyclable carpet,” states Sorci. “That’s one of the learning tools, because Martin County is very environmentally sensitive. There’s a lot of glass inside, because the vision of these activities is not inward-focusing, it’s outward-focusing and collaborative.”

Technology Goes to School

As a showcase school, CALC’s planners at the Martin County School District specified a central “technology crystal” glass enclosure just inside the main mall that puts all the central components for the facility’s communications, AV systems, and fiber network clearly on display. “It’s a glass central feature showing the students the patch cords, hard drives, servers, and wireless modems, and is hopefully also part of the learning tool,” says Hank Salzer, assistant superintendent for Leadership Planning Services for Martin County School District. “We wanted a ‘wow’ effect, but the point was also that you not lose the sense of being in a technology area when you move from one function to another, even if you’re in the cafeteria. The multitude of glass also emulates a business office, where a lot of the time the boss is watching through glass. In addition, it affords us optimal supervision of the high school.”

Sorci and his team at Florida Architects, which also included project manager Markus Gemsch, project architect Tom McCord, project coordinator and CAD producer Bradley James, and on-site Construction Administrator Ken Singletary, created a circular layout for the two-story structure. The heart of activity is 12 classrooms and labs that encircle a central “Knowledge Room” designed to accommodate collaborative research and project-based learning.

Complete AV systems, installed by Audio Visual Innovations ( for enabling long-distance collaboration and media-rich presentations, are an important part of the equation in each classroom. Using a Crestron CT1550 mini touchpanel and Crestron CP2E central controller, teachers can operate an Epson multimedia LCD projector, Samsung document camera, Sony DVD/VCR combo, Smart interactive whiteboard, and more. An Extron system switcher oversees video, while a Biamp power amp, JBL ceiling-mounted speakers, and a Shure podium microphone regulate audio.

A key feature of the classrooms is sliding glass doors that open to the flexible-seating Knowledge Room, where movable screen partitions allow up to 290 people to congregate or be seated for anything from scholastic activities to business presentations. Here Crestron control operates a Sharp 4000 lumen multimedia LCD projector matched to a Draper RPX dual mirror system and Da-Lite 6x8 Da-Plex rear projection screen. Also present are dual Pioneer 50-inch plasma displays and a more powerful audio system featuring a ClearOne digital matrix audio switcher and Renkus-Heinz TRX81/12 full-range program speakers.

“The intensive AV capabilities mean that the instructors at CALC have choices. They can lecture to students in front of them, or with the Crestron control panel they can turn on cameras in the room that can set up a videoconference to another group, or do a live webcast from that facility,” O’Brien says. “Students who may be sitting at home can log in using something as simple as Microsoft NetMeeting, or if they have a broadband connection and VoIP, they can conference in and participate as if they were in the classroom.”

Because a goal at CALC is to be a productive virtual environment, the ability to efficiently send, store, and recall these data-intensive activities on demand is crucial. Toward that end, fiber-optic connectivity was installed at every possible point, with all data streams linking to a 40 terabyte SAN at the IRCC’s Kight Center for Emerging Technologies on the Ft. Pierce, FL, main campus. “Not only can the lecture be recorded, but if slides or other Internet resources are used they can be saved as well,” O’Brien adds. “This way a student who was in the class can play a piece of the lecture back, or see the whole thing if they missed it. Once the lecture is on the SAN, there’s an Avid-based video and audio editing suite at the Kight Center where it can be edited to be served up as a web class. So there are a lot of things to do here that are very much tied to the theme of blending the physical and virtual that’s at the center of the design.”

Educational Enhancement

More opportunities await students and faculty on the second level. Media-savvy students can create full-fledged video/graphics productions in the virtual studio, where they can shoot and edit video footage using a Panasonic DVCPRO SDI camcorder package. Students also learn how to place their subjects against 2-D virtual backdrops (also known as Chroma-Key) for high-powered presentations.

Also upstairs is the Center for Teaching and Learning. Created as a dedicated room for training faculty on the school’s extensive technology interfaces, it is centered around two impressive 84-inch rear projection 1024 x 768 Smart boards™, with two additional Pioneer 50-inch plasma displays mounted in the rear. Again, Crestron control and an Extron switcher guide the action.

Throughout the CALC, Florida Architects was conscientious of the effects of proper lighting, making extensive use of systems from Finelite ( “We paid a lot of attention to detail with regards to direct/indirect lighting,” says Sorci, “because we have found over the years that this method is cost-effective from an operations and installation standpoint. Even more importantly, it creates a much better working environment for people, because you don’t get the direct ray of light in your eyeball - it bounces and fills the space. You have to be careful, however, not to do 100 percent uplight, because without some shadow you can’t physiologically identify an object in space as 3-D. When you introduce at least 10 percent downlight, you get enough space-defining light that you can make those objects out in space.”

According to Sorci, there is an art to properly executing a technology-centric architectural plan like the CALC’s. “What it boils down to is two things: Plan ahead and strategize,” he confirms. “It’s one thing to know what’s available out there today, but you have to place R&D considerations into your technology plan to know what’s going to be viable in the near future.

“You need the backbone and structure to allow the technology to change over every 2 years. The best scenario for this is to run fiber, because with fiber you can accommodate just about any speed of device that they can come up with. It’s OK to have wireless, but it’s not up to the same speeds and capabilities as fiber.”

High-Tech Commencement

After a year of operation, it appears the CALC has received much more than a passing grade from its most important users. Says Rodger Osbourne, executive director of Operational Services for the Martin County School District, “We have tremendous numbers on dual enrollment classes and the highest science test scores in the county. For the facility itself, we’ve heard nothing but accolades, and as the program changes, the CALC can support the evolving technology.”

From Joe Sorci’s perspective, the Clark Advanced Learning Center is an important new development for education. “It’s a solution that provides new opportunities for students,” he observes. “It isn’t outfitted with technology that nobody else could get - it’s how it’s used that’s significant: the smaller class size, the special programs, and creating that stronger student focus. The result not only bridges the gap between grade levels, but between technology and the classroom.”

Sponsored Recommendations

i+s Spotlights Those Giving Back for Thanksgiving

As Americans celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, we’re applauding some of our industry’s greatest charitable initiatives.

KOVA’s Dan Sullivan Talks Optimization for Adaptive Reuse

What makes a building a prime candidate? And what technology advances are streamlining the process? Sullivan answers all this and more. Read, then listen...

What's That Sound? Exploring the Vital Role of Acoustics in Commercial Interiors

In this episode, we take a deep dive into the acoustics conversation with our friends at Fräsch.

Take a Tour of New St. Mary's Medical Center by EwingCole

Get an inside look at Essentia Health's new flagship hospital in Duluth, MN that redefines the continuum of care for patients.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of I+S Design, create an account today!