The new millennium ushered in a new era in education in Niagara Falls, New York: The state-of-the-art Niagara Falls High School was introduced in September, 2000, combining the populations of the city's two long-standing high schools in one awesome and awe-inspiring new building. With nearly 2,400 students under one roof, officials were initially worried, but their fears proved unfounded. The populations meshed seamlessly, uniting as one in a school that eventually featured its own television-production program and cable-access channel; a Performing Arts Center that left The Great White Way envious; ground-breaking academic initiatives; award-winning music programs; and a state-championship basketball team.
The school has drawn attention from the four corners of the earth, hosting visitors from countless countries eager to see the program in action and to experience the building in person. They have, without exception, been left breathless and utterly impressed.
The building itself serves as a community cornerstone, offering health and other human services in addition to its fine academics; hosting untold community events in its theater, its spacious gymnasium and its high-amp amphitheater -- capable of connecting minds across the continents, without wires.
Dwindling enrollment and a declining population, along with ever-mounting maintenance costs for the two aging buildings, forced the ultimate closure of the former Niagara Falls High School and the old LaSalle Senior High. What once was a three-high-school town, with a vibrant population in excess of 100,000, now numbers barely half that. And, of course, but one school remains -- but what a school it is!
Achieved via a unique public-private partnership made possible via special legislation at the state government level, the new NFHS grew from an overgrown lot in the center of the city. Whereas the two previous schools had been located at opposite ends of town, the new NFHS was dropped down dead-center with one primary thought: Uniting the community. Virtually EVERYONE is bused in ... a big help in keeping any one from group claiming "ownership."
Not only did the students walk into a fancy new building, but they latched onto some of the latest-and-greatest bells and whistles, including school-issued laptop computers. Not to be left out, taxpayers benefited from a unique and creative funding process that allows the district to rent the building over a 30-year period, without having the multitudinous headaches of ownership. At the end of the lease the district can walk away, debt-free. Not a bad option to have.
The Architecture Review calls it "an example of a true architecture, business, technology and community partnership" and "a novel educational experiment (that) could well become a trend-setter for public schools in the United States."