Vernon Malone College and Career Academy

Raleigh, NC

An empty building, formerly a Coca-Cola bottling plant, languished in a South Raleigh neighborhood. The neighborhood bore the burden of this lost building, occupying valuable land on a downtown corridor but devoid of activity. Meanwhile, a significant number of high school students occupied nearby classrooms, not fully participating in educational programs which don’t quite fit.

Stagnation benefits no one, and so the Dream Team hatched a plan. A three-way collaboration between the Wake County School Board, Wake County, and Wake Technical Community College created a curriculum designed to set things in motion. Aimed at closing achievement gaps and encouraging career development for students seeking to develop their skills outside of a traditional high school setting, this new program will open doors to advanced education and opportunities with marketable career prospects.

The old bottling plant provided the ideal canvas to help set that plan in motion. Once a center for production, this underutilized space has been transformed into a state-of-the-art facility for career and technology programs. The building houses career programs such as electrical systems engineering, biopharmaceutical technology, health sciences, cosmetology, business information technology, welding, plumbing, auto collision repair, and simulation & game development. Support spaces include administrative offices, classrooms, labs, and a student commons area. High schoolers fill the classrooms during the school day, and Wake Tech programs utilize the space during the evening hours.

The building program is centered around a dynamic bright orange wall that “slices” through the original building, adding a sense of vitality and movement beneath the new light wells which fill the space with daylight. It’s a design intervention which matches the activity inside: providing new opportunities and encouraging new directions. The interior design incorporates elements that align with the industrial aesthetic of the existing building and the technical side of the program, with low-maintenance and durable materials. The innovative “learning commons” area fosters collaboration and a spirit of community in an “adult-like” hang out space. The exterior of the building reflects the spirit of the “adaptive re-use” transformation, integrating new design elements to capture the spirit of the program while economically utilizing the existing building skin.

The project, which opened at the start of the 2014-2015 school year, is already a success. The unique collaboration has created an educational environment that will encourage more high school students to stay in school, graduate, and build valuable marketable skills. The dynamic transformation has brought new purpose to a “ghost” building, thereby saving resources and injecting activity and life into a quiet industrial area. The design provides a successful example of adaptive re-use which might encourage similar projects in the future, and has generated lessons learned which will benefit both the designers and other entities interested in reclaiming similar forgotten spaces for educational uses.

The vacant bottling plant gets a new lease on life, and the students gain access to new educational opportunities. Stagnant to active. Idle to innovative. Vacant to vibrant.