Design for James Blair Middle School to be revealed Tuesday

Ryan McKinnon

The design for Williamsburg-James City County's new middle school will be unveiled at the School Board meeting on Tuesday.

The design, which is inspired by the principles of 21st-Century education is not likely to resemble a traditional school, based on conceptual drawings and videos posted on the WJCC website.

Sliding glass walls, mobile furniture and technology throughout the building are some of the components that have been highlighted by school designers at board meetings that will separate James Blair Middle School from the other middle schools in the district.

At a School Board meeting in August, educational facilities planner Michael Hall of Waller, Todd and Sadler – the firm designing the new school – described some of the features that epitomized 21st century design.

"One concept is this transparent and flexible learning space," Hall said, showing a slide that demonstrated how walls in the new building will be able to slide to alter the size of classrooms.

"This is change that can happen in a learning environment not over Christmas break, but between 9 and 10 in the morning," Hall said.

Hall also showed a large common area with kids on multicolored couches and chairs, each holding either a laptop, tablet or cell phone as a teacher circulated. He said the design allows teachers to interact closely with students rather than lecturing from the front of the class.

The design has drawn comparison to the open-concept design in vogue in the '70s. Open-concept designs removed the physical walls that divided classrooms in order to create large common areas where students could work in groups. Many schools built as open-concept schools put up walls years after the construction in order to create a less distracting environment.

WJCC Spokesperson Betsy Overkamp-Smith said WJCC's plan is not an open-classroom school.

"Open concept has no walls or very few walls. The difference is that (James Blair Middle School) will have walls that can be opened or closed to reconfigure the hubs. This gives teachers flexibility through flexible classroom configurations," Overkamp-Smith said.

Overkamp-Smith also said the building will integrate technology throughout, but the district will wait until it is closer to completing the project before determining the specific devices.

"The building opens two years from now and technology changes very quickly," Overkamp-Smith wrote in an email. "The building will be wired, wireless and ready for the technology that both students and teachers will use."

At Tuesday's School Board meeting the board will also choose their representative to the Virginia School Board Association Delegate Assembly and Regional Meeting. The VSBA Delegate Assembly decides which issues to focus lobbying efforts on in Richmond and Washington.

McKinnon can be reached at 757-345-2341.

Want to attend?

What: WJCC School Board Meeting

Where: Building F of the James City County Government Center

When: Tuesday, June 7 at 6:30 p.m.

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