CASE STUDY: Expanding and Upgrading Pat Neff Middle School

Originally built in 1961, San Antonio’s Pat Neff Middle School is the oldest middle school in the Northside Independent School District, one of the largest school districts in Texas. The district commissioned Garza Architects to develop and implement an expansion and renovation plan that would modernize the campus environment and correct problems that had developed over years of ad hoc additions.


When we began our work on the project, the campus was facing several challenges, most of which will be familiar to school administrators dealing with older facilities in high-growth districts.

A Campus Strained by Growth
An expanding headcount had put a tremendous strain on the 1,200-student school. Portable buildings were in wide use at the campus, and there was a critical lack of space for administration, food service, athletics, and career and technology education. There was also a need for more staff and visitor parking on the campus.

An Inefficient Layout
Over time, past campus additions without a master plan in place had created less than optimal spatial adjacencies, which were having a negative impact on the efficient operation of the campus.

Security and Safety Concerns
Those same additions – along with the older design of the original campus – had created a very open layout that wasn’t conducive to the ingress and egress control needed for safety and security.

The Need to Maintain Operations
The school’s need to remain open during the substantial expansion and renovation dramatically increased the complexity of the project, requiring extra thought during the design process and the creation of a comprehensive plan for demolition and construction phasing.


We responded to the project’s complex challenges with a thoughtful approach that addressed the most critical needs of the school while also creating a stronger identity and sense of place for the campus.

Rebuilding the Heart of the Campus
To address the school’s critical overcrowding issues and address the spatial inefficiencies that had developed over the years, we designed a new heart for the campus. By demolishing the existing administration building and replacing it with new buildings connected to a renovated cafeteria, we created a more contiguous layout that increases safety and dramatically improves campus efficiency.

The new buildings have a clean, modern design that includes elements of the existing buildings in order to maintain a cohesive look for the overall campus.

Defining a New Entry
The new heart of the campus also includes a new security lobby. This lobby improves safety and security by providing for centralized ingress and egress control. In keeping with our philosophy about the potential for security lobbies to do more than just control building access, we also designed the lobby to serve as a new architectural focal point and identifying feature for the campus.

These security and safety improvements also extend to the building exterior, where we designed a new layout and canopy structures that improved circulation and pedestrian safety in the student drop-off area.

A Plan Within a Plan
To pull off the construction and renovation of new and existing buildings while maintaining access for students, staff, visitors, and their vehicles, we created a complex and detailed phasing plan for the project. The tightly orchestrated plan involved first renovating the science building so that it could serve as a temporary home to administrative offices.

We then mobilized modular buildings to create a temporary dining area while the existing cafeteria was renovated and expanded. This was done as a first phase to minimize the displacement of food services.

With the school administration in its temporary quarters, we next demolished the existing administration building and constructed new replacement buildings. This phase also included constructing the new security lobby and creating the prominent new main entrance.

Throughout the process, we managed a plan for redirecting vehicular and pedestrian traffic to facilitate construction activities while maintaining access to all school functions and ensuring the safety of students, staff, and visitors.


Pat Neff Middle School’s varied, complex, and longstanding needs required us to find a design approach that could address some major facilities challenges by thoughtfully integrating a mix of new, renovated, and existing spaces. At the same time, we successfully deployed a sophisticated phasing and site management plan that allowed the district to make these major upgrades while the school remained online.

The result is a transformed campus that addresses a growing population’s needs with a learning environment that encourages student achievement and meets the latest standards for safety, security, and efficiency.