The barren balcony of Fossil Ridge: An investigation


Liam H. Flake

The Fossil Ridge balcony overlooks the courtyard occupying the center of the school.

Liam H. Flake

Overlooking the interior courtyard of Fossil Ridge High School is a balcony with doors connecting to the second-floor locker bay. Occupying the space above the school’s greenhouse, the balcony is composed of an open space of concrete enclosed by railings on three sides. The doors that access the balcony, unbudging with disuse, remain locked at all times, shut off to the student body. Ultimately, while the space holds the potential for student lunches or other recreation, Fossil’s balcony sits just beyond students’ reach, inaccessible and abandoned.

The balcony’s history of disuse began with the very opening of the school. When the first students walked through Fossil’s doors, among them were attendees to Kinard Middle School and Polaris Expeditionary Learning School. Until they had buildings constructed of their own, the two schools occupied Fossil’s upstairs wing. This presented obvious issues with safety. “I think the habit of keeping [the balcony] not accessible was the product of ‘there are tiny people upstairs, probably don’t want you playing on balconies,’” stated Tara Oswald, an English teacher who has worked at the school since its opening and served as a dean for much of this time. “It’s a safety issue.” And so, in the interest of the prevention of incidents while younger students used the space, the balcony closed to the public.

This closure continues into the present, Oswald suspects, for similar reasons. “I honestly feel like it’s just that it came from a point of safety. It’s hard without supervision,” Oswald posited, expanding on the issue. “I mean, 99.5% of kids are super smart, and aren’t going to do dumb things. It’s always those few that can’t manage it without supervision that we have to make those rules for.”

Karen Lemmon, the head of Fossil’s art department, offered some additional insight into the situation. “Very soon after we opened, we realized that was not a good idea, because of temptations of students to do various things like jump off, or, you know, make bad choices,” she described on the prospect of the student use of the balcony. She explained, “To my knowledge, it has never actually been used for anything. Teachers have keys that will get us out there, but there’s no student access. I don’t know if there ever will be student access.”  

However, despite its disuse, the feature was intentionally included in the building’s design. So what is the intended purpose of the balcony?

According to John Little, the Project Manager for the construction of Fossil Ridge, the balcony was intended to be used as a “green roof.” The central concept of a green roof is to use the roof of a building as a garden of sorts. As Little described, the balcony was envisioned as a space in which plants from the greenhouse (which sits conveniently below the terrace) could be stored in warmer weather.

However, the balcony was also designed out of a much simpler ideal: it made sense architecturally. “We wanted a space where people could go instead of a roofing membrane,” Little elucidated. The balcony met the criteria and followed the guiding principle of intelligent design for the school, so it was a natural decision for the space.

Though the balcony does not serve its original purpose, Little explained that this is simply the way of things. “We can’t predict the future,” he provided. “The building ebbs and flows.”