Education is ever evolving and offers many options and pathways for pursuing an education. Community colleges and state universities target high school students whose goal is receiving some sort of higher education degree. But what about those students who want a faster timeline towards entering the workforce?

Career technical schools (like the Great Oaks Career Center) are an excellent option for high school students who would are more interested in pursuing a trade that will allow them to begin earning earlier in their career than traditional higher education allows. For community colleges and state universities, students are expected to devote four to six years to education post-high school, whereas most programs for Great Oaks finish after two. That is two years while they complete their high school education! Great Oaks offers programs in all 35 districts in Ohio in a myriad of different industries: fine arts, nursing, web design, auto collision, computer science, and more. They are providing students with unique hands-on learning opportunities and exposing them to diverse real-world experiences.

“Great Oaks purpose is to provide innovative career training to empower individuals and communities.” – Harry Snyder, President & CEO Great Oaks Career Center

Education Evolving & Career Technical Schools

The biggest driver in designing for career campuses is the respect of the student. Career technical centers, vocational schools, and trade schools often have a very inaccurate stigma; the thought is that they are not suited for higher education in a traditional college or university. When designing the Great Oaks Career Center, MSA understood that these locations are schools of choice and therefore analyzed how to strategically “sell” the school to students.

Great Oaks has highly technical, specialized labs and classrooms that combine career-specific skills training with rigorous academic pursuits to provide students with more advanced level learning opportunities then traditional high schools. Career technical schools have evolved and now offer college-credit classes, so students can decide to go to schools like Great Oaks and complete college level courses. After attending, students are given the choice to enter the workforce or to continue their education at a community college or a state university.

Big Driver - Respect of Student

Another big driver when designing was providing quality environments. Great Oaks offers a diverse array of trades for students to choose from. MSA met with Great Oaks to best understand how to cater to the various needs for each trade. A large part of this discovery process was programming and planning the spaces.

Some programs require large spaces for trades such as auto collision, and engineering to accommodate large equipment. These large bay labs are designed to accommodate 12 or more vehicles, and classes of up to 30 students.

Other programs require smaller spaces for trades such as dental hygienist, nursing, and web design. These careers require smaller equipment and spaces. Because of the various activities that each trade requires are occurring under the same roof, MSA needed to be conscientious about each program’s schedule to decrease any interruptions. When working with Great Oaks, we grouped classes by discipline or program in an area adjacent to each other so that students can quickly travel from classroom to classroom.

These classrooms are designed to have flexibility as Great Oaks expands their offering of programs. Great Oaks caters to what students are most interested in and are constantly evaluating whether their programs continue to be viable. Great Oaks has explored adding in numerous programs for their students, such as Forensic Science and Biotechnology.

Big Driver - Quality Environments

Great Oaks has familiar elements you find in newly constructed schools that are often used for marketing and attracting new applicants. The new elements include communal areas to conveniently gather outside classrooms adjacent to main common areas. These promote interaction and community participation but still allow intimacy for groups of different sizes.

Great Oaks Collaboration

MSA has worked collaboratively with Great Oaks for numerous years to bring their vision to life for all the campuses; Live, Laurel, Diamond, and Scarlet. Laurel Oaks Career Campus was one of the smallest of the four campuses to potentially becoming the largest, and with an exponential growth in enrollment.

Laurel Oaks consisted of two dissimilar education buildings, requiring student to walk outside multiple times per day from class to class, class to lab, and to/from lunch. With the renovation and expansion of connecting the two buildings, it created more cohesive spaces.

An identifiable main entrance canopy acts as a landmark and leads into a large central corridor we envisioned as more a “spine” than an artery. The spine is lined with columns with steel above that emulate airplane struts (honoring the site’s aviation history as an air force base). Natural light pours in through the clerestory windows that line the edges of the spine and draws your eye up to the graphically patterned perforated metal ceiling above. The colored concrete floor complements the column pattern and leads you into the building. It is a polished industrial design.

Laurel Oaks & Collaboration

As Great Oaks continues to grow, they are receiving grant funding to add additional programs and increase existing programs. The career technical schools like Great Oaks are highly specialized and devoted to prepare high school students for real-world application and workforce. As jobs diversify, these campuses have spaces designed for flexibility and potential growth in the future. MSA Design and Great Oaks work together on programming and planning for these spaces for student success.

Dwayne Boso's Bio
Lauren Sharpe