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Grand Rapids Public City High / Middle School 21st Century Student Center & Cafe

A Multi-purpose Place

Creating flexible learning environments for the 21st Century

Grand Rapids Public Schools envisioned the café to have a level of flexibility that could also serve City as a 21st century learning environment.

By designing several pod-like seating areas around the student center core AMDG created a highly flexible common space for varying educational activities.  In addition to facilitating healthy eating and socializing, the space seamlessly transforms into a vital center for learning.  Contemporary learning methods are more collective and markedly benefit from both large and small groupings of meeting space the City High café design provides.  Information technology devices allow teachers and staff to utilize modern tools to effectively communicate with parents, students and colleagues.  The café is also available for teachers to utilize during class time for break out sessions or study hall.

A Healthy Place

Providing healthy eating for today’s students

Paul Baumgartner, Director of Nutrition Services for GRPS, desired an inviting student café that would celebrate healthy eating.  A spacious kitchen and servery were especially important to control student lines and to give ample space for staff and students to comfortably work and eat.

AMDG collaborated with food service equipment consultant, The Baker Group, to design a new commercial kitchen that would provide the tools and space needed to serve students healthy wholesome foods.  As food naturally draws students together, the brightly renovated student café at City High naturally promotes not only student health, but also rich student community and new creative learning opportunities.

The transformed café seats 450 students and serves two lunch periods.  To keep high volume student flow running smoothly, two serving lines branch from a wide corridor.  Condiment counters are set away from lines to avoid bottle necks after students check out with breakfast, lunch, or a piece of fruit.  A small vending area and microwave are also located away from serving lines to keep student traffic clear.

A Cool Place

Designing an environment that meets the social needs of the entire student population

Alex Smart, Design Supervisor for GRPS, wanted to give the City High Middle School students a “cool” space that would build connectivity among the kids in the context of a café commons space. 

To transform City’s dull traditional cafeteria, AMDG infused light, color, and glimpses of the outdoors into the centrally located student commons for a dramatic makeover the students would love.  AMDG took advantage of existing clerestory windows that lighten the café at its core.  Stretched colored fabric, brightly painted accent walls, and statement pendant lighting add energy and life to what was once tired and dim.

As a solution for counteracting unhealthy social obstacles, AMDG designed different seating areas including booth and bar style seating and oversized moveable molded seating, all of which offer unique opportunities for eating, studying, or mingling with classmates.  Mixing up the spatial environment is a strong tool for encouraging interaction between diverse students groups and dramatically improves understanding, trust and respect among them.  The more inclusive students are, the more likely they are to thrive both socially and academically.  

A few more words from Alex Smart

Interior Design Consultant

Jennifer Butler Interior Design


“[Recently] I have had the fortune of working with you and your outstanding team on three different projects for the Grand Rapids Public Schools. My experience with your team’s knowledge, professionalism, responsiveness and complete attention to detail has set AMDG apart from any other firm I have had the opportunity to work with. Not only has your team delivered what you promised, but you have exceeded any and all expectations we may have had for these projects. Your creativity and ability to listen to our needs and your willingness to adjust and take new directions to meet our needs are remarkable.

The AMDG team [has] been a total pleasure to work with. They have exhibited tremendous knowledge in design and construction and have made the project development enjoyable and “refreshing”. It is with complete satisfaction that I would recommend the AMDG team to any potential client you may have in the future. Keep up the good work and continue to surround your clients with an amazing team.”

I believe this is the best design we've yet to complete in GRPS.  You and your team did a fantastic job!

Alex Smart, Design Supervisor
Grand Rapids Public Schools

AMDG Architects deliver results as promised.  They provide both enthusiasm and creativity to the table and best of all wrap it up in a professional package that generates results.  They are able to bridge that difficult gap between concept and execution.  School renovation projects generate extremely tight time lines and budget demands.  In both instances, we are able to present to the community a renovated space that is multi functional, within budget, on-time, and echoes with 'wow' for weeks to follow.

Paul Baumgartner, Director of Nutrition Services
Grand Rapids Public Schools

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