Vertical wall panels add height, contrast to new Alabama middle school

Students in the fifth through eighth grades in the area surrounding unincorporated Buhl, Ala., finally have a school to call their own. Previously split between their local elementary schools and the Sipsey Valley High School, they’ve moved into the new Sipsey Valley Middle School. Though it’s primarily a single-story structure, the school incorporates vertically installed PAC-CLAD metal wall panels from Petersen to emphasize height on its two-story core, differentiating the second story from its masonry base.

Tuscaloosa County, home to the new school, has been experiencing a population boom during the past decade, with a 7% increase between 2010 and 2017, according to U.S. Census data. Improving economics, including an expansion at a local Mercedes Benz manufacturing plant and growing enrollment at Tuscaloosa’s University of Alabama are among the contributors to this influx of new residents.

With the addition of the middle school, Sipsey Valley High School, which opened its doors in 2010, can breathe a sigh of relief. That facility, located across the street, originally housed seventh and eighth graders, along with students in ninth through twelfth grades. By the time planning began on the middle school in 2017, eight portable classrooms were required to fully support the high school’s combined student body.

Working with a budget of $17 million, designers with the Tuscaloosa office of Ellis Architects incorporated 9,800 sq. ft. of Petersen’s 24-gauge steel Precision Series HWP wall panels in custom color Keystone Gray as second-story cladding. Installed vertically, the panels’ rib pattern creates both depth and shadow, along with visual contrast with the first floor’s horizontal masonry runs. An additional 5,400 sq. ft. of Petersen’s PAC-CLAD Flush Panels in a combination of custom colors Worldly Gray and Shoji White also are featured throughout the school’s exterior. Installation was completed by the team with Duncanville, Ala.-based Metal Roofing Solutions.

The middle school welcomed more than 400 students when it opened its doors in August 2018. But with a capacity of 600, school administrators now have some room for future growth. Added safety features also should have teachers and students breathing easier – one entire wing of the school is specially reinforced to serve as a shelter from the tornados that can tear through the region. With added steel and concrete, and windows with nearly 1-in.-thick glass, it should stand up to winds of up to 250 miles per hour.