Using design to foster a feeling of legacy and permanence associated with an 80-year old community high school.

York Community High School
Elmhurst CUSD 205
Elmhurst, IL

The Elmhurst Community Unit School District commissioned Wight & Company to provide a Master Plan, including a five-year, multi-phased expansion and renovation program, for York High School. The implemented award-winning expansion project included new classrooms, two new 60-seat lecture rooms, a new 750-seat auditorium, a courtyard commons, and a new fieldhouse.

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Project Challenge

The 43-acre campus was bounded by major streets and athletic fields. The design team was therefore challenged to design any expansion elements to fit within a limited site area. Without disrupting school activities and without losing scheduled school days, the renovation and expansion program was to be implemented with a focus on the heart of the school and the historic elements of the original 1920s building. This approach required demolition of multiple additions that had buried the school’s historic facade.

Additionally, the project was hinged on the passage of a $95-million referendum. The community had defeated three previous attempts to achieve lesser improvements over the past decade. For this “final” opportunity to garner community support, we partnered with the Elmhurst Community Unit School District in a process to engage the surrounding neighborhood and broader tax-paying community. It was important to demonstrate to the community how the aging building was hindering the educational experience, while also visually communicating how a “re-generated” school could deliver both superior curriculum and accommodate meaningful community participation.

Our Solution

Our design approach incorporated a new indoor commons area that was created from the historic façade of the school. Additionally, a new academic wing was designed to embrace and reflect the historic elements of the original school building.

Our careful planning and project phasing approach provided the solution for scheduling challenges. With two distinct phases that slotted important new construction activities and selective demolition work before overall restoration efforts and additional new construction components, we were able to successfully implement the program without disrupting the normal school schedule. (See “Phased Approach” for more details.)

To address community concerns, we led numerous “Town Hall” meetings that targeted parent groups as well as senior citizens, local government leaders, and other community organizations. With the resulting master plan, and a strong public outreach campaign, the referendum passed overwhelmingly with a 75-percent “yes” vote in the spring of 2000.


Phased Approach

Phase One
Phase One built a single new structure, 292,000 square feet in size, to house most of the academic programs of the school. It included new classrooms, labs, studios, seminar rooms, and all of the faculty and support spaces needed to permit vast areas of the original school to be vacated for later renovation or demolition.


Phase Two
Phase Two linked the older, historic sections of the building to a new academic wing. Central functions - such as student commons, cafeteria, counseling, media center, and library – were built in the heart of the school. Phase Two also included physical education facilities, which replaced small and scattered gyms with a larger gym, spacious fieldhouse, and fitness center, clustered around the older traditional competition gym and new locker room and training facilities. With the completion of Phase Two, the school is now housed in 614,000 square feet of new or completely renovated space.

Awards & Recognition

  • 2004 Award of Distinction, Excellence in the Design of Educational Environments, Illinois Association of School Boards
  • 2004 Merit Award, Rehab Construction, Chicago Building Congress
  • 2004 Outstanding Project, Common Areas, American School & University Educational Interiors Showcase
  • 2003 Outstanding Project, Classrooms, American School & Unversity Educational Interiors Showcase
  • 2003 Learning By Design, Nomination, American School Board Journal
  • 2002 Impact on Learning Awards, Accommodating Technology, Council of Educational Facility Planners International