New Johns Hill Magnet School a 'container of gifts'
Herald & Review. Valerie Wells. October 25, 2020.

DECATUR — The new Johns Hill Magnet School under construction was designed to look like a container full of gifts.

Todd Cyrulik, an architect with BLDD Architects and the lead architect on the project, visited with the seventh-grade art class at Johns Hill via video conference to show them artists' renderings of their new building and to tell them about the process.

“The whole building is a metaphor for your gifts and talents that you learn and take out to give to the world,” he said.

The existing Johns Hill, which was built in 1928, is Decatur's oldest magnet school. As part of the Decatur Public Schools' BOLD Facilities Plan, the building would be in need of expensive upgrades and the school board made the decision to build a new and more accessible building, which is slated to open in August 2021. The existing building will be torn down.

Several schools in the district underwent name changes this school year and a committee at Johns Hill is also considering a name change, said district spokeswoman Denise Swarthout, though it's possible the committee will recommend keeping the existing name, as Hope Academy's committee did last year.

Students in Kathy Balamos Ganley's seventh-grade art class at Johns Hill will be the first to graduate from the new building. They are studying architecture, notably Frank Lloyd Wright's work, and Ganley asked Cyrulik to join a Google Classroom meeting to discuss the process of designing their new school.

Architects have four tools to use, Cyrulik said: form, texture, color and light. The building will be mostly done in grays and whites, with plenty of blank wall space on which to display the work of the young artists at the school, but for the few pops of color, BLDD chose to use red for its attention-getting qualities. Though the architects can't control natural light, they can design a building to take the most advantage of it.

“Since you're an arts program, we want people to see art and light when they walk up to the building,” he said. “We wanted you to be delighted and to notice little nuances.”

The sign on the front of the building will be in red, and inside, the staircase will be red and designed to look like a ribbon, he said.

“We have a special opportunity because we have a new school building being built outside the window and a talented architect who designed it to teach us about it,” Ganley said.

“I think it's going to be pretty big and pretty cool,” said Xaniyah Todd, one of the students. “I hope I don't get lost.”

Cyrulik also showed them photos of the process of designing a building, from the brainstorming sessions where architects sketch their preliminary ideas, through the final artists' renderings of the actual building.

“I like that it's futuristic,” said student Eden Wilkinson. “Before I just knew that (architects) designed buildings. I like what it looks like on the outside with all the windows.”

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