Ann Richards School for Young Women

Austin Independent School District (AISD) opened the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders in 2007. The school now hosts more than 800 students from grades 6-12 with programs dedicated to preparing young women to attend and graduate from college, live healthy and well-balanced lives, and become creative and courageous leaders.

As the student population has grown, the need for additional facilities led to an expansion of the school with a new 182,000 SF building. The new main school building is predominantly 1-story, with a 2-story education wing.

Structures was proud to work on this project that supports and encourages women’s careers and leadership development. As a company that is committed to diversity and has worked with numerous highly-skilled women, we were glad to be involved with this project.

One of the most impressive features of this project was the monumental staircase in the dining commons. Other key components included learning studio rooms and open collaboration areas, and a media resource center with sitting areas on the big, wide staircase, in addition to a slide between the media center levels.

The central and east wings contain classrooms, an art studio and courtyard, engineering labs, dance studio, orchestra/band rehearsal space, and athletics and gym facilities.

The new building was constructed next to the original facility. The construction included a variety of materials, leading to very specific structural design elements for the tall, exposed concrete columns and exposed steel structure. Structures provided a design that used suspended cold-form framing from roof steel beams to eliminate channel frames and miscellaneous structural steel for areas of the 2nd floor. This both eliminated unnecessary materials that could have taken up valuable space, but also reduced materials costs.

The primary vertical structure was steel frame, but there were large areas of concrete masonry units (CMU) for lateral support, with large bent plates and vertical slots to allow the steel to deflect vertically, while using the CMU sheer walls for lateral resistance. Structures also included expansion joints over the windows to facilitate architectural finishes that make this building inviting and empowering.

The immense size of the building resulted in numerous transitions in roof heights, the construction of several mechanical penthouses on the roof, and adjustments to address the significant changes in grade across the site. The mechanical penthouses were enclosed under a roof to comply with AISD standards.

Another significant challenge was that fire code required 2 firewalls to separate the structure into 3 separate zones that could each burn and collapse without affecting other parts of the structure. These special firewalls required a design that included custom-made fire clips to permanently stabilize the structure, while still achieving building code requirements for firewalls and enabling the collapsibility required.

Location: Austin, Texas

Size: 182,000 sf

Client: Austin ISD

Architect: O’Connell Robertson

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