Perth Amboy High School Master Plan
Perth Amboy, NJ
Perth Amboy possesses many attributes of an interesting, healthy city. However, the city is marked by enormous and debilitating urban scars. Vast, largely contaminated industrial lands, and interstate highway 440, have divided Perth Amboy into a series of disconnected pieces, isolating neighborhoods that were once contiguous. As a result the site of the new school is very poorly linked to the city’s south sector neighborhoods, from which it will draw the great majority of its student population.
Linkage across Interstate 440 is mostly limited to one location, the Convery Avenue overpass, and, primarily for vehicles only. A jumble of ramps, high-speed traffic and a single narrow sidewalk render the Convery connector all but impassable for pedestrians and cyclists.
Incredibly, in a city where all students live within New Jersey’s 2.5 mile norm for walking or cycling to high school, Perth Amboy may have to transport a majority of students to high school by bus. From the perspective of both the physical health of the students, and the financial health of the city, this seems wrong and unacceptable. One of the principal aims of this project is to correct this condition via strategic urban repair.
Perth Amboy’s proposed high school cannot succeed without first considering the present urban condition. To improve the tenuous link between the school and Perth Amboy, the scheme proposes to extend the domain of the high school into the community. A new urban park would reconnect dislocated communities by linking Amboy Avenue and Convery Boulevard via foot and bike paths and an extension of Chamberlain Street. The park would include playing fields, a new high school football stadium, restored natural vegetation and most importantly, a safe connection across Convery Avenue via a landscaped underpass.
The tenuous linkage between the school’s northwest quadrant site, and neighborhoods in the south sector, can be greatly ameliorated by adding a relatively simple, if large scale, urban landscape in the northeast quadrant of the city. This landscape, called Chevron Park (in an act of curious nostalgia or, possibly, inspired fundraising) lies between Amboy Avenue and Convery, is bounded on its northern edge by a new Convery to Amboy extension of Chamberlain Street, and on the south by an existing forest.¬In addition to foot and bike paths, the park contains community baseball fields, and the new high school football stadium. For students, it provides an easy, interesting and safe route from Amboy Ave, (a new threshold of the school) to the main front courtyard of the school via a new underpass beneath Convery Ave.
At a civic scale, by linking Amboy Ave to Convery Ave and the new school, (for vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians), the park effectively activates a broad and flexible network of connections extending across the Amboy Ave and pedestrian overpasses and into all the neighborhoods of the south sector of the city. The benefit of making it possible for most students to get to school on foot or bicycle, (reducing the need for special busses), would be substantial for students, school and city.
The proposed high school activates and is activated by the city and the landscape around it. Bordered by playing fields and wetlands to the south, a baseball diamond and suburban park to the north, and derelict brownfields to the east, the project stitches together three disparate zones into a continuum of building and landscape. At a broad pedagogical level, the new high school is similarly understood as a hybrid between two educational paradigms. Essentially it is a big school that wants to be a small school.
The school is organized as a complex of discrete buildings in the landscape that negotiates these dichotomies as they relate to different scales of public space. Commons, courts, and lawns create interstitial zones between the buildings that mediate between both the individual academy and the entire school, and between the school and community. The modular simplicity of these buildings provides the framework for an easily adaptable school.