Live5 WCSC Visits North Charleston Public Works

Last Friday, Live5 News visited the state of the art campus of the North Charleston Public Works Complex that is currently under construction!  Watch the video to see our progress and learn more about this great addition to the City of North Charleston - you may even see a familiar face!  We can't wait for this building to open in the Spring. | Charleston, SC | News, Weather, Sports

Many thanks to the project team, including:

Trident Construction / General Contractor

Thomas & Hutton / Civil Engineering and Landscape Architecture

ADC Engineering / Structural Engineering

DWG Consulting Engineers / Mechanical, Plumbing & Electrical Engineering


A Day in the Life of A Principal

Anne Toole, Principal for a DayLast Thursday, our Director of Marketing was Principal for a Day at Moultrie Middle School. Here's her account of the day:

At SMHa, we take a hands-on approach to design. Because each project is different, the architects like to sit down and work with the staff, users and owners to determine their goals and budgets, and then create a realistic design that meets these parameters and inspires the students.

As a marketing professional, I don’t often have the chance to get into the minds of the end users like our architects do, so when I heard Moultrie Middle – not only right around the corner from SMHa but also my middle school alma mater – was still open for the Chamber’s Principal for a Day program, I jumped on the opportunity. 

When I was a student at Moultrie, it was still the old Pepto-Bismol pink school set back from Coleman Boulevard. The ‘90s grunge movement was in full swing and uniforms were freshly instated and a hot topic of debate for students and parents alike. I pulled up to the school on Thursday both excited and a little nervous as even the new building had that old familiar smell of ‘school’ that I haven’t come across in a long while.

I was immediately greeted warmly by the office staff and Principal Anna Dassing and given the run-down of what to expect: my job was to shadow Principal Dassing on a very average day, which in middle school during a full moon could be just about anything. I would be privy to any concerns or situations that arose and get to do exactly what I hoped: see a real school day from the principal’s point of view.

Moultrie's RotundaWe started the morning greeting people under the ‘rotunda’, the central hub where the 6th, 7th and 8th grade halls come together in the front entrance hall of the school. Principal Dassing handled the onslaught of students, staff and visitors like a pro, greeting many by name, fielding questions left and right, and kindly but effectively managing students -- reminding them to put on their ID badges, not to run, and making sure students were where they were supposed to be. To be this sharp on one cup of coffee in a sea of 800 middle schoolers is a rare talent.

Once classes started, we held a meeting in the rotunda where I met about a dozen members of her staff. They meet every morning, first sharing any ‘good news’ both school related and personal, then discussing what each person’s day may have in store. The face-to-face communication allows for quick resolution of pending issues and a general understanding of what to anticipate in the coming day. 

At 9:30 we had a fire drill -- to make the situation more realistic, only a small handful of staff are told about the drill (including myself, being principal and all!). Students navigated the drill calmly – and believe it or not, quietly – but as a monthly occurrence they seem to have gotten used to the occasional disruption and an opportunity to get outside. We walked the halls making sure classrooms and bathrooms were clear, doors were locked and if people were following the right protocol. 

One thing I learned about fire drills is that the staff who do know about the drill create an unforeseen issue to evaluate how teachers and students would perform in a real emergency situation.  Sometimes obstructions are made so teachers and students have to change their exit strategy unexpectedly, and in Thursday’s case, one student was asked to remain hidden in the office to simulate a ‘missing person’ situation. While the ‘missing student’ was handled correctly, there was a miscommunication about a different student who went to the nurse but was not reported missing by her group. Following the drill, we met with staff to discuss ways to prevent that from happening in a real emergency. I was impressed with the immediacy of how concerns are identified and solutions are discussed, chosen and implemented; within 5 minutes of the fire drill, a solution was determined and someone had already volunteered to handle implementing it properly.

As the day progressed, we walked the halls of the school and stepped into many classrooms to observe.  Principal Dassing explained to me the variety of learning styles, many of which I have written about and heard about, but never gotten to see in action. Changing technology has allowed the classroom to evolve to better fit the needs of the students and teachers. While some classrooms were set up traditionally with the teacher at the front and students listening and following along with the lesson displayed on the Smart Board, other classrooms were set up for a more self-directed approach, where students in the same classroom may be doing completely different things at their own pace while still learning and working towards the same educational goals with one-on-one interaction with the teacher and allowing them to accommodate a variety of learning styles and levels.

These days we all hear that technology is alive and well in the classroom, but seeing it being put to use as a daily tool was so exciting! Moultrie is lucky to have a large number of iPads that were given by other schools in the state that weren’t using them. Students in a 7th grade English & Language Arts classroom, rather than sitting down reading or talking about vocabulary, were out of their desks and working in groups to film and produce movies on their iPads about a literary character they read about. I sat with a group of 3 students to watch one of the movies they made and was stunned at the quality -- it’s hard to imagine just how many skills these children are gaining in the classroom when they have technology like this at their fingertips. 

As we walked the halls, Principal Dassing and I talked at length about running the school from an architectural standpoint: what works and doesn’t work when managing the movements of 800 students, meeting teachers’ and staff’s needs both inside and outside the classrooms, accommodations for special needs students to learn life skills, accessibility, maintenance, storage, food service, music and arts spaces and even discipline issues.

I could go on and on about what I learned and saw and the many adventures we had in just one day of being a middle school principal – I didn’t even mention the gym class games, the parent phone calls, or my favorite school subject: recess! But what I did come away with is a more informed perspective on the true reality of a school and its users.

Afternoon Pick-UpAs the daughter of a teacher, I’ve seen first-hand the amount of work being done outside of school and heard many stories of what goes on during class, and I have always had a great respect for the work they do. that as a reality was an eye-opening experience. The principal, staff and teachers do not get to flip the ‘Off’ switch during school hours and take a break, even if their schedule claims they have one. As we watched the last cars drive away from the pick-up line that afternoon, I was more than exhausted and ready to give my proverbial principal hat back to its rightful owner. And I’m glad I did, because as I walked out of the school that afternoon, I knew her day was not nearly over.

Many thanks to Principal Dassing, the great assistant principals, staff, teachers and students who welcomed me as one of their own!  I am so thankful for the experience. We are looking forward to hosting Principal Dassing as CEO for the Day in the summertime and can’t wait to hear her perspective of working in an architecture firm!


Another Brick in USC's Wall

South Carolina College as it appeared in 1850 looking from College StreetThe historic Horseshoe Wall on the University of South Carolina campus is getting a facelift. The wall was originally built in the 1830s, surrounding the entire campus as a means to curb students from their late-night antics of stealing produce and livestock from nearby residents and businesses, and had only one break in its 6' 9" high border onto Sumter Street. In the 180 years since, the wall has been part of history and the evolving campus. According to documents, it saved the campus from fire during the burning of Columbia in the Civil War, and parts of it were destroyed to create openings for horses and wagons, possibly because the college was used as a hospital at that time. Through the years, the wall has been altered to include more openings for cars and pedestrians, and shortened in some areas.

Today, the wall sits quietly, relatively overlooked or unnoticed, and for many is just part of the backdrop of the campus as students gather for pictures there and hang spirit signs and banners on it throughout the year.

SMHa is currently working to restore the aging Horseshoe Wall. Damaged bricks and many of the brick cap bricks atop the wall are being replaced with new bricks handmade in North Carolina, intended to match as closely to the originals as possible. The new bricks will have '2014' embossed on the back so that decades from now when the wall is restored again, these will be differentiated from the originals.

In the years since the wall was built, beautiful oaks have taken root and flourished near this wall, adding a beautiful element to the campus, but many create a safety hazard in areas where they grow against and into the wall. We are collaborating with USC to determine which trees can and should be removed and replanted, and which trees should remain where they are and the wall will be altered safely around them.

Wall Sample Mortar Color Test

The video below shows a glimpse of skilled masons beginning the repointing process; after carefully chiseling the mortar to a certain depth, a natural hydraulic lime mortar - specially used in restorations - was installed in two different shades (a white-based and buff-based) in a small section of the wall. We are currently working with USC and specialized masons to evaluate which color will age to be more historically accurate.

By taking measures today to carefully and accurately restore the Horseshoe Wall, it will withstand the test of time for even more generations of USC students and alumni. We are excited to be part of its evolving history!


A New Creative Arts School is Taking Shape

Students, members of the community, and representatives from Charleston County School District and the City of North Charleston came together to celebrate their new building on the rise in a 'Building Ascension' ceremony this morning.

North Charleston Creative Arts Elementary School, currently under construction, will be an arts-infused partial magnet school offering visual and performing arts curriculum to students in grades K-5. The school will have a designated arts wing with spaces for art, drama, chorus, instrumental music and a dance studio. Central to the building is an art gallery used to exhibit student work.

In keeping with the school's focus, the interiors are colorful and whimsical to encourage creativity and inspire the students.

We are so excited to see this design come to life! Many thanks to our talented team of designers and consultants working together to see this school completed in early 2016!




Building a Bright Future

Over the years, we have enjoyed hosting students from Wando High School’s Internship Program. They come with varying interests and backgrounds and are guided by SMHa architects and principals while working on real-life projects to get a grasp of what life is really like at an architecture firm. 

Wando senior Harrison Novak, who is double majoring at the high school in Art + Architecture and Math, Science + Engineering, has returned to intern with us for a second semester. She has wowed us with her talent for being able to read drawings, visualize projects and reproduce them as models. Harrison recently spent three months working on a model of the Town of Mount Pleasant Town Hall, which was delivered to the Town this week. 

“My experience in 3-D Art helps,” she says. “I’m a very visual person, and I love that everyone in the office gave input and helped me create this.”

One of Harrison’s favorite aspects of model making is the need for creativity. While it takes a sharp eye, steady hand and ability to translate drawings into scale 3-D reproductions, certain elements also require the ingenuity to problem solve. For example, to make the rounded council drum, Harrison found a soap dispenser of the exact scale dimensions and painstakingly soaked the wood until it was pliable enough to be wrapped around the dispenser and dried, creating a perfect shape for that part of the building. Harrison’s favorite parts of the model are the roof overhang brackets, which she feels give it a great ‘finished’ look.

Wando High School is known for its smart, talented students, and Harrison is no exception. Her work is on a professional level, so much that she is building yet another model, this time for an office building. Keep up the good work, Harrison!

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