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To the locals, it came as no surprise when Ann Arbor, Mich., recently topped the list of America’s healthiest cities (“Healthiest Hometown, No.1,” AARP Magazine, September/October 2008). The cities were chosen based on 30 factors–everything from the percentage of residents who commute by walking and biking to the number of fast-food outlets per capita.

Ann Arbor is a 27-square-mile city that boasts 156 city parks, including trails, golf, canoe liveries, tennis courts and athletic fields. A whopping 86 percent of the city’s 113,000 residents get regular exercise, according to AARP research. Ann Arbor is home to five colleges and universities, including the state’s oldest–the University of Michigan–with over 40,000 students. Ann Arborites value education, and its public school system demonstrates this with consistently high graduation rates and test scores.

Several years ago, with a growing student population and five high schools near capacity, Ann Arbor Public Schools took advantage of an expansive, ideally located piece of land that the district had owned since the 1960s, and began the process of building a new high school. After years of planning, a multitude of community forums, building designs and redesigns, freshmen for the new Skyline High School’s first class–the class of 2012–walked through its doors on September 2, 2008.

Laying Out A Plan

The school is situated on a 110-acre site, but the site development only occupies 65 acres. A four-story design-configuration was implemented to reduce the building’s footprint on school grounds. The design team worked closely with community members, district officials and civil engineers to preserve the natural wooded areas, including a large “hardwood forest.”

The forest features oak, maple, beech and other varieties of trees, some of which are over 50 years old. An additional wooded area to the south serves as a buffer between the school grounds and a nearby highway, M-14. The design team took advantage of the site’s existing topography in unique ways. In particular, the school’s football field (or “stadium field,” as the district refers to it) seemed to be a perfect fit for an area adjacent to the school.

The field was literally built into a lower part of the site, below-grade. Unlike a typical school football stadium, with its tall, unsightly bleachers, Skyline’s field design allows for seating to be built into the slope of the “bowl” configuration. In contrast with high schools of old, Skyline features a full athletic campus with a football/soccer/field hockey/lacrosse stadium, complete with spectator seating for 2,607 people. The campus includes a separate running track with an additional practice field in the center, tennis courts, a softball field, a baseball field and even a large, open green space for casual sports.

A Marriage Of Sorts

Members of the active, health-conscious Ann Arbor community saw the new school’s athletic campus as a potential asset. During the planning process for the school, several community forums were held. It was the general feeling from neighbors that if district officials agreed, this new school and all of its amenities would be an asset–an extended backyard–that included state-of-the-art athletic facilities, all open for residents’ use. In the newly expanded part of town where the school was built, neighboring Ann Arborites were lacking parks and recreation facilities, so the school’s manicured fields, tennis courts and running track were seen as a positive to most.

Questions posed during the early community forums varied from, “Will the fields, tracks and courts be off-limits to area residents when school is in session?” to “Will the restrooms and concession building be available for the public to use?” The Ann Arbor Parks & Recreation Department had questions, too. It was interested in sharing Skyline’s facilities and offering programs that would benefit from the school’s fields and other surfaces.

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