Lake Highland Prep architect SchenkelShultz releases first look at design of new campus building

Orlando's Lake Highland Preparatory School will demolish two existing classroom buildings on the campus and build this new Center for Innovation and Academics.

Floor-to-ceiling windows that give visitors a peek into the new robotics lab and a wide-open breezeway that maintains lake views are some of the design highlights in SchenkelShultz’s vision for the new academic building at downtown Orlando’s Lake Highland Preparatory School main campus.

The private school at 901 Highland Ave. received master plan approval from the City of Orlando earlier this summer to replace two of the oldest buildings on campus, Hale Hall and Johnston Hall, with a new 4-story building that will incorporate administrative offices, flexible classroom space, student commons and a new media center. The smaller buildings will remain operational until the new building receives its certificate of occupancy. Then they will be demolished and a new, expanded parking lot and drop-off lane will be built in their place.


Lead architect Ekta Desai said SchenkelShultz initially was brought on to work with the school as part of a master planning exercise that evolved over time.

“We went through several iterations in the beginning of trying to find a way to utilize portions of Hale and Johnston, where we would just cosmetically be upgrading them and bringing them up to code, and then adding a new addition to minimize the disruption and impact on the school,” she said. “And the school was focused enough on the value and the potential of this project that they ultimately decided that, okay, this needs to really stand for something. It needs to stand for the future of Lake Highland.”


The 71,000-square-foot Center for Innovation and Academics will establish a new western edge to the campus and feature a ‘bridging’ element that visually connects the lakefront to the south.

The new 4-story building will be constructed adjacent to Hale Hall and Johnston Hall. Upon completion, those buildings will be demolished to create the parking lot, as this aerial overlay shows.

Finding a way to keep Hale and Johnston open during the construction period was a critical element of the plan, since the buildings will be separated by just 10 feet. “The construction resources we’ve had on this project from the building committee at Lake Highland and the board have been integral to how to actually pull this project off. They’ve been involved from the very beginning,” Desai said. Civil engineering firm Klima Weeks was also an essential member of the team. Bonnett Design Group is providing landscape architecture services.

Desai said the red brick facade on the front elevation “embraces a modern interpretation of the historical Georgian language” and the building interior supports interdisciplinary learning and idea-sharing across multiple academic programs by way of interconnected classrooms and labs. There’s even a cut-out in the ceiling between the second and third floors to facilitate interaction and collaboration.

“The idea of the Innovation Institute by the Upper School administrators encouraged us to find a solution that would put this unique element at the heart of the project,” Desai said. She describes it as an open platform for all forms of experimentation, encompassing robotics engineering, physics, virtual reality, augmented reality and computer science.

SchenkelShultz Partner Ekta Desai said the combination of red brick and glass on the front and back facades honor the traditional Georgian architecture of the campus while also looking to the future.

Desai said the front of the building, which faces north, utilizes a mostly solid brick exterior, which blends in with the rest of the campus but also serves a practical purpose. “The premise of the project was for it to be a transitional response in that it honored the traditional campus but also looks to the future. And so the south elevation is predominantly solid in its wall assembly because of just the amount of heat gain the south elevation received,” she said. “So we were trying to be really mindful of heat loads on the building. Whereas on the north side there’s no direct heat gain because of the solar orientation, so that allowed us to optimize the views to the lake, which were paramount to the siting of the project.”

From the very beginning, school leaders wanted to find a way to activate the lakefront, which they considered a gem on their campus. The near-total transparency on the north elevation provides students with unobstructed views from all four levels of the building, and the open breezeway serves as a “front door” for parents as they utilize the new drop-off area in front.

“We’ve been working on this project for about two years and we’re just so thrilled that it’s happening,” she said. The goal is to complete the entire project by August 2023 — in time for the beginning of the school year. They would need to break ground next spring to meet that schedule, but the timing will be subject to permit approvals and the ongoing capital campaign.

President Admiral Al Harms said construction and timetables must be evaluated and approved by the Board of Trustees, and that successful fundraising would be key to making the vision a reality.


Lake Highland Prep was founded in 1970 and educates nearly 2,000 students from Pre-K to 12th-grade across its 42-acre campus.

“Enrollment at Lake Highland is extremely strong,” Harms added. “Our longstanding commitment to exceptional STEM, innovation, and academic opportunities attracts students, and this Upper School Center for Innovation and Academics will elevate our outstanding programs to an even higher level. SchenkelShultz has created a bold, innovative design where our students can learn, collaborate, problem-solve, and create in an immersive, interdisciplinary atmosphere.”

SchenkelShultz has specialized in designing educational facilities for more than 20 years. The firm’s K-12 portfolio of work totals more than 55 million square feet of projects in the US, Germany, Japan and Puerto Rico. Locally, the firm has provided architecture work for the Dr. Phillips Academic Commons at UCF Creative Village, as well as numerous charter schools and public school systems. Orange County Public Schools just opened a new 3,000-student high school in Dr. Phillips that was designed by SchenkelShultz.

Four Osceola County high schools -- Celebration, Harmony, Lake Tohopekaliga and Liberty -- were all built from the same SchenkelShultz prototype design. The firm also has provided middle school prototypes to the county.

Osceola County also selected SchenkelShultz to design its Class-A office building at NeoCity.

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