Great Neck South High School Library Media Center

Set within the wooded rolling hills of the former estate of Henry Phipps, Jr., a steel-master and one-time associate of Andrew Carnegie, the Great Neck South High School library underwent a long-awaited and deserved transformation in the summer of 2019. BBS interior designers turned the formerly underutilized and obscure space, which had not seen major renovation or update since its opening, into a vibrant 21st Century learning environment.

Through a year-long planning process which included multiple meetings with students, educators, librarians, and school administrators, the design team embarked on a journey to create a modern interdisciplinary space with flexible adjacencies, while facilitating individual and group learning experiences. Although limited by the original footprint, it was completely reinvented as a flexible learning commons more befitting to the school’s current educational program.

The original 1957 school library was a dim labyrinth of stationary stacks, wooden desks, partitions and masonry half-walls, sub-dividing the main volume and adjacent rooms in a seemingly arbitrary manner. The low ceilings and heavy metal stacks further exaggerated its cave-like ambience, with only the perimeter store-front windows and translucent roof panels letting a natural daylight in.

Today, the Great Neck South High School Library Media Center is a light-filled open space fostering the learning process and encouraging social interaction. The design team was successful not only in resolving traditionally static aspects of the old library but also in streamlining the floorplan arrangement and allowing flexibility of use. The re-routing of HVAC and engineering systems allowed for ceilings to be raised over the main volume, non-structural elements gave way to full-height glazed walls promoting a positive and open atmosphere. Along the perimeter, the existing translucent panels were preserved in homage to the late 1950s building design.

A variety of furniture solutions consist of movable tables/seating in the open learning commons, high and low-top seating elements and soft booths in the Café area, adjustable technology tables with portable stools in the STEM / Robotics Room, and more traditional yet flexible seating solutions in the Quiet Study Zone with adjacent multi-purpose classroom. The original print collection was significantly reduced and relocated into the high-density Collection Storage Room in the west corner; however, select print materials remain prominent throughout the commons in low mobile shelving units which double as moveable dividers between different study zones.

The 6,700-square-foot learning commons now features differentiated zones for individually focused tasks as well as a variety of settings available for small and large group instruction, with ample opportunities for social interactions. The design team created a “layered floorplan” which anticipates students’ changing daily needs: For a “quick bite” between classes or a chat with friends, the Café is conveniently located directly off the main corridor and school courtyard. The open learning commons can accommodate a wide variety of groups and communication methods to work on a small group project or have a strategic team “huddle” before a major class presentation. Delivering unobstructed views of the wooded exteriors, the Quiet Study Zone along the perimeter caters to students who prefer more tranquil learning settings.

Designed around transparency and connectivity, the Great Neck South High School Library Media Center is today a state-of-the-art learning commons and a vibrant campus hub that connects students and educators alike with the world of new media and technology.