Desiderata Alternative High School / Jones Studio

© Bill Timmerman

Jones Studio was selected in 2004 to design a new space for the special Desiderata Alternative Program. This 125 student school is dedicated to helping teens with emotional disorders attain a high school education as well as learn basic life skills. Moving the school from a 1920’s historic building, “Desi” would be relocated into an industrial building. The 30,000 sqf program entailed a complete build-out after gutting the entire interior. A wide variety of program elements from administrative offices, classrooms, food preparation, therapy areas, and fitness rooms are arranged for optimal function within the existing shell.

The architects chose to add exterior planted courtyards within the existing building’s walls in order to create outdoor classrooms and bring in natural light. Eight-foot square skylights take advantage of the industrial building’s high, wood roof structure to distribute natural light to multiple classroom clerestories. Colored glazing and a variety of paint colors de-institutionalize the building and create a rich, varied learning environment for the children.

Architects: Jones Studio Inc.
Location/Address: Phoenix, ,
Principal-In-Charge: Neal Jones
Lead Designer: Eddie Jones
Project Manager: Rob Viergutz
Job Captain: Aaron Forbes
Contractor/CMAR: Sun Eagle Corporation
Landscape Architect: Chris Winters
Cost Consultant: Adriana Crnjac
Civil Engineering: George Evans
M&P Engineering: Peter Kunka
Specifications: Norm Littler
Structural Engineering: Mark Rudow
Electrical Engineering: Doug Woodward
Client: Phoenix Union High School District
Project Area: 30,000 sqf
Project Year: 2006
Photographs: Bill Timmerman

© Bill Timmerman

The Desiderata Alternative Program is dedicated to helping 14 to 21 year-old children with emotional disorders attain a high school education as well as learn basic life skills. It is comprised of children from throughout the Phoenix Union High School District.

The Desiderata Program has been housed in a number of temporary locations.

floor plan

The acquisition of an existing building in Phoenix Business Park in late 2004, was the successful culmination of a search by Phoenix Union High School District to find a permanent home for the Desiderata Program.  The expansive commercial structure was full of potential and would be able to accommodate not only the Program’s functional needs, but also its aspirations of creating a rich, day lit learning environment. Housed within this new built environment are a variety of room types including thirteen Classrooms, a Computer Lab, Group Therapy Rooms, an Activities Room, a Cafetorium, an Instructional Kitchen, a Fitness Room, and Administrative Offices.  The New Desiderata Building attempts to better meet the needs of the students and staff by creating a larger, more unified facility with strong connections to the outdoors and daylight. The Desiderata Building will be a home that students and staff can take pride in for years to come.


The previously agrarian site was developed into Phoenix Business Park in 1973, a conglomeration of commercial, retail, and industrial properties covering twelve acres. The Desiderata Building was constructed in 1980 as a speculative commercial property (reference Program Section 7.0 for the floor plan). The building was formerly home to Meta Graphix, a Commercial Print Shop, and the building’s only known tenant. Concrete block exterior walls encompass 31,825 square feet of office and warehouse space in a roughly U-shaped plan. The building’s current office spaces occupy its center, and are linked to the east parking lot via two storefront entrances. The north and south portions of the structure were used as several vast warehouse spaces. Like many industrial buildings, windows and natural daylight are found only at the office entrances.

© Bill Timmerman

In renovating the building, the project looked to breath new life into the structure by building on the hopes of students and staff for a light, airy, and inspired learning environment. By responding to its new academic function and new occupants, the building will gain a new vitality and renewed sense of purpose, becoming an integral part of the community.
The Desiderata Alternative Program is a highly structured school environment which couples a High School Curriculum with Therapy and Social Integration Programs. To accomplish its purpose, the School must accommodate the needs of a variety of User Groups including Teachers, Social Workers, Therapists, Pathologists, Administrators, Food Service Providers, Information Technology Workers, and Security Personnel.

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* Location to be used only as a reference. It could indicate city/country but not exact address.
Cite: "Desiderata Alternative High School / Jones Studio" 15 Jan 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 27 May 2015. <>
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