“[North] is organized how an inmate’s holding area would look like,” senior Connor Munsch said. “Although the school tried to spruce it up with words on the walls and paintings here and there, it’s still pretty depressing to the eye.”
The rumor that North’s architect is a prison designer has existed for at least a decade, according to senior Mathangi Ganesh, whose sister from the class of 2011 also knew about the rumor. The story comes in many shapes and sizes: some insist the school building was originally designed as a prison; others claim the architect once designed a mental asylum. “It’s not just a rumor at South; it’s a fact,” South senior Neeraja Aravindan said.
It’s time to dispel the rumor.
The original architects of the school worked for Jordan and Pease, a firm based in Raritan, NJ, that has since merged with Design Resources Group based in Doylestown, PA. Design Resources Group could not be reached for comment. David M. Pease, the founder of the architectural firm, focused on “the design of schools,” according to an obituary published on Legacy.com. According to the website Kompass.com, which provides information on various companies, Jordan and Pease focused on “highway engineering, railway engineering, geographic information system services, building construction management, well engineering, technical drawing, structural engineering, naval architecture, dam engineering, architectural engineering and airport engineering”—in short, nothing related to prison architecture.
If North wasn’t built to be a jail, then what really caused its creation?
To put it quite simply, the design of North was a reaction to “a very crowded South,” according to Larry Shanok, the Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Board Secretary. As most students already know, WW-P initially contained only a single high school—South. However, as the population of the district increased, a school intended to house just 1300 to 1400 students had more than 1900 students attending. Jordan and Pease drafted the blueprints for North, which was originally designed to house only freshmen and sophomores. After sophomore year, these students would attend South as juniors and seniors.
After the school was built, however, the district realized that there were several repeats in the curriculum between the two schools. In classes like world language, in which sophomores and juniors mix, the courses at North and South overlapped and students learned the same material twice. Additionally, a single school allowed for a smaller number of extracurricular activities. Under the district’s original plan, North and South had only a single theater production and a single debate team, for example.
A committee led by then-Assistant Superintendent Jon Cosse began a capacity study of both of the high schools. Principal Michael Zapicchi was on that committee, along with various administrators, parents, and a demographer to calculate the population and its fluctuations. The goal of the committee was to split the schools so that 1600 kids across four grades attended each high school.
For a period of three years, all the district’s freshmen attended South. At the conclusion of their freshman year, half of them moved to North and the other half remained at South. According to Zapicchi, the division “allowed for the filling of North with a break” for South’s faculty.
So in reality, North’s building has no dark past. “I know the rumor, but it’s probably not true,” said junior Aravind Koneru. “An architect is an architect.”