Art teacher Susan Arnold drove by the site of Robert E. Lee High School every day while crews were in the process of demolishing the building, and, as a sculptor, couldn’t help but notice all the potential in the growing scrap heap forming by the workers.
“There were all these wonderful pieces that could be turned into art, all the while preserving a piece of the past. So many people who went to Lee connect with that past,” she said. She couldn’t help but ask for permission to pick through the scraps and salvage some items for later use.
“I got a ton of them. I was coming by every day, setting aside the pieces I wanted, putting them in my vehicle, driving them back to my house, then coming back for another load. Eventually, the crew members asked if I wanted them to deliver the pieces,” she said, and she gratefully accepted.
“And that left a big pile of scraps in my yard. Two piles, actually,” she said, much to her husband’s chagrin.
Arnold came to her assistant principal at Lee, and told her about what she wanted to do with the old pieces. “I want to merge the old with the new in a way that includes the students,” Arnold said.
Meanwhile, Assistant Principal Cindy Perret, who had been pondering the problem of lack of seating options around the school building’s common areas, thought this would make a good project for architecture students. Perret remembered a project her brother, a graduate of the LSU architecture program, worked on for a class on furniture design.
“So I gave them a call,” Perret said, and connected with one of her brother’s former professors, Thomas Sofranko, associate dean at the College of Art and Design at LSU.
Arnold said she was sure nothing would come of it. “I figured they get requests like that all the time.”
But, Sofranko said, the concept fit perfectly with what students in a furniture design class were working on, and was a good way to start to build a connection with Lee, which is a science, technology engineering and math-focused magnet school.
Cole Rhodes said he and his design partner Keven Miller took into consideration the fact that benches often create socially awkward spaces. “If someone sits in the middle of the bench, probably no one else is going to use that bench,” Rhodes said.
In order to maximize the number of students who would use the space, they created two units that fit together to form one big bench, but can be pulled apart and reconfigured to create spaces that allow more than one student the feeling of personal space.
The second bench, created by Charlston Britton, of New Orleans, and Jacob Thevenot, of Baton Rouge, incorporated an old grate Arnold had picked up from the former school building to form the seat of the bench, and combined wood donated by State Lumber, and legs donated by Custom Metals.
“We liked the look of the metal grate,” Thevenot said, “And we wanted to combine the metal with the comfort of wood to create the bench seat,” he added.
Sofranko said this won’t be the end of their partnership with the school.
“We really look at this project as the first step in what we hope will be a long relationship,” he said, adding that he foresees more projects, possibly with the scrap pieces, that will include Lee High student input.
Students also got fabrication help from the Agriculture department at LSU, he said.
“It really was a team effort.”
Arnold said she also plans more artwork for her own classes at Lee using the scraps.