Kirkland Ranch Academy of Innovation in Wesley Chapel oozes ingenuity, both in design and curriculum.
Project: Kirkland Ranch Academy of Innovation
Location: Wesley Chapel
Cost: $60.5 million
Size: 184,000 square feet
General contractor: Creative Contractors, Clearwater
Architecture and design: Hepner Architects, Tampa; Cannon Design, Chicago
On its website, Cannon Design, the Chicago-based architecture firm that helped create Kirkland Ranch Academy of Innovation (KRAI), hails the recently opened institution as “a radical new approach to fueling innovation and economic investment.” It’s a high school focused solely on career and technical education, with academic programs ranging from auto maintenance and building trades to cybersecurity, robotics engineering and biomedical science. But from the outside, you could mistake the eye-catching campus for a massive modern art museum.
“The entire skin of this building is either metal panels, quartz or a glass curtain wall, or what's called glazed block, all three of which are fairly unique for a high school,” Creative Contractors President Josh Bomstein says. “It gives it a much more modern and contemporary feel — very sleek and beautiful. That was intentional, to create a high-tech, forward-thinking type of culture and environment.”
Although views from the massive center courtyard give the appearance of separate buildings, KRAI is all one structure. But each learning space was designed and built specifically for a particular academic program. For example, Bomstein says, the welding and auto maintenance classrooms are “high-volume spaces” that have plenty of room for “the latest and greatest and best technology available.”
Bomstein says KRAI was created in response not only to the need for more schools in fast-growing Pasco County, but also in recognition of workforce development needs. As a company — like many in the construction industry — that has struggled at times to find enough skilled workers, Creative Contractors jumped at the chance to take on such a project in its own backyard.
“The school district was intent upon building a world-class high school that was focused on workforce development and professional certification pathways for every student, so that every student would pick a career pathway and graduate with an industry certification,” he says. “As a company, that's something that we have been very supportive of, because we think it's an important role that our K-12 system can play.”
He adds, “Students can graduate ready for life after school after high school, which may mean college but could also mean entering the workforce and starting their career. Kirkland Ranch is the best example of that.”
KRAI’s mostly steel exterior is a bold choice that sets it apart from most other schools, but the material, Bomstein says, also made possible the “donut” layout of the school, with its sprawling center courtyard. The second-story classrooms are fitted with skylights to bring in natural light, while all the learning spaces and other rooms that face the courtyard have floor-to-ceiling windows. The landscape design was done with painstaking attention to detail, with all-native plants grown by local nurseries.
“There was a real focus on being sensitive to the environment and honoring the heritage of the site, which was a working ranch for a long, long time,” Bomstein says. “It's quite a large ranch and it's still owned by the family. The remaining family members are two sisters who own the land, and they wanted to ensure that a good portion of the ranch went to a good cause. And so they worked out a deal with the school district to sell the northwestern portion for the high school, which will be followed by a K-8 grade school.”
Creative Contractors has been named to build the K-8 school, construction of which is expected to start in a few weeks, Bomstein says. “It enables parents to potentially send their kids to school on the same campus for their entire K-12 education, if they choose to do that.”
Unsurprisingly, given KRAI was built during the pandemic, supply chain and inflated material costs were Creative Contractors’ thorniest obstacles. There were some delays in procuring the metal panels for the building’s exterior, but Bomstein says Creative Contractors longstanding relationships with subcontractors — the company has operated in the Tampa Bay region for nearly five decades — helped minimize disruptions to the construction schedule.
“We're fortunate to have been in the air for 48 years,” he says, “so we've got good relationships with subcontractors and suppliers, and they always step up for us.”