Rocky River

Magnificat High School students are being given the opportunity to leave a little of themselves behind after graduation.

Members of Alecia Janosik’s graphic design class will contribute their ideas to the “Surround Learning Center,” a proposed redesign of the school’s core areas to better reflect modern education.

“Surround Learning” was coined by Sr. Helen Jean Novy, vice president of mission for the school. It is described as a concept that blends physical environment, new learning methods and technology to create an enriched learning experience.

“The learning part has already begun. We’ve had presentations from NASA and the art museum and we’ve had many beginning facets,” explained Novy. She added that she actually came up with the concept, which, as far as she knows, has not been used in any other school. Magnificat is currently seeking a copyright.

According to a blog ( that details the project, the majority of the work would only minimally affect the structure. The existing school hub, which includes the entry, resource center, computer lab, large group instruction area, business technology center and cafeteria, will remain in its current location. But “seamlessness” will be achieved by opening up the spaces with more windows and doors.

The design firm of Fielding Nair International was selected to come up with a schematic for the work, and senior designer James Seaman visited the school in April to get a feel for the spaces involved. He also got input from students and staff, which emphasized more natural lighting, including skylights, and flexible space with movable seating and walls. Also at the top of the lists were more outdoor areas, better Wi-Fi access, computers for all students and staff, plus an emphasis on sustainability. He also had the chance to observe classes in action.

“I saw the physics classes making (drinking) straw bridges, and these are some of the things you can actually model first to see what will work. These are the things we use as architects and designers,” commented Seaman.

Last month he returned to Magnificat with his wife, Laura Cassi, an interior designer with TMP Architecture in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., to work with students who wanted to put their own spin on the proposal.

“This is the first time I have worked with high school students, and I think they catch on faster than college students,” remarked Seaman during a design workshop at Magnificat in December. He is an adjunct instructor at College for Creative Studies, a Detroit-area art and design school, in his fifth year teaching a class called Interior Modeling and Animation for interior design students.

Seaman and Cassi showed the high school students how to use Google SketchUp. He said this is a free, three-dimensional modeling tool that is used by both design professionals and hobbyists in such fields as architecture, interior design, and the design of products and video games. “You could use this to design your own kitchen or bathroom,” added Cassi.

Cassi further explained that the students participating in the workshop were each working on their dream house using SketchUp and a laptop computer. “We started with a basic A-frame house, and they took it from there,” she added, noting the differences of each house. While some were traditional, one looked like a “hamster house” with clear tubing, while another resembled something from “The Jetsons.”

The student designers even added their own furniture and people, with one girl remarking she was adding Justin Beiber.

Seaman also presented designs of the Surround Learning areas to the students, which were based on the discussions and findings during his spring visit. He told the group that he also used SketchUp for his models. “Sometimes it takes eight to 10 hours for some of the renderings, such as light effects,” Seaman said, demonstrating the look that varied lighting conditions can give an area. He added that measurements were made with a type of “laser measuring tape.”

According to information on the school’s blog, three renovation budgets are being considered, ranging in cost from $3,873,125 to $8,464,625. Novy said that $5 million has been collected through a “quiet campaign.”

“We approached our friends and board of directors. The capital campaign has been approved by our board of directors,” she said.

Seaman left the students with the assignment to help design the Surround Learning Center. “As part of our process at FNI, we actively listen to the student voice and get students engaged in designing the spaces that they will ultimately be using. It’s amazing to see the ideas that the students can come up with,” he commented.

The students agreed that it would be interesting and fun to contribute to the project, especially the entrance and the media center. “It will be cool to modernize the media center. It looks so ‘Brady Bunch’ now,” said senior Bridget Armanini, referring to the ’70s feel of the area.

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