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School Board, Building Panel Review Sandy Hook Building Designs

Public Building and Site Commission and Board of Education members described one of three design schemes for the new Sandy Hook Elementary School as elegant, efficient, and simple. The plans were presented by Svigals + Partners Tuesday, February 11, at a joint meeting of the two boards.

“We’re here today to show you the first thing that we have shown you in the design for the school,” said Julia McFadden, an associate principal with Svigals + Partners and the project manager for the Sandy Hook School project. “We’re going to give you an overview of how we got here and how the process got us to these design options.”

The three designs, Ms McFadden said, were born from a months-long process.

From mid-October until mid-November representatives of Svigals + Partners met with community members during workshops and interviews. Tours of other recently built schools in the state have been conducted, and a site analysis was completed, according to Tuesday’s presentation. The Board of Education approved the educational specifications for the new Sandy Hook School in December.

“What you are seeing here today isn’t a creative idea we pulled out of a hat,” said Ms McFadden, “but it really is born out of the process that we have been engaging with you in over the last four months —learning about Sandy Hook and the town of Newtown and using that, as well as the specific place of the site, to really speak to how this building wants to be sited on the site and make the most of the opportunities that exist for this place.”

Ms McFadden, Alana Konefal, and Svigals + Partners company principal Barry Svigals each shared descriptions of three design schemes prepared for the site.

Each had a realigned driveway, starting where the old entrance began but branching off from it later, looping closer to the Senior Center property. Each design also had the school building placed at the southern end of the property, farther back from where the former school sat. Ms McFadden said the orientation of the new property design will create better vehicle circulation and allow for a larger parking area.

When speaking about the driveway for the school, Ms McFadden said Svigals + Partners wanted to create “a wonderful experience in that approach.”

A video showing a rendered entry concept for Dickinson Drive to the school was shared during the meeting. It is also available online at www.sandyhook2016.com, a website launched in January to share project updates.

Ms McFadden said Svigals + Partners has worked with Parks and Recreation and community members to locate two overlapping fields, a baseball and soccer field, on the property, on the west area of the space rather than the east, where the fields used to be situated. While the layout would allow both sports to be played on the property, it would not allow both to be played at the same time, according to the presentation.

The three schemes presented during the meeting were called Main Street, Courtyard, and Hybrid.

For each scheme the building would have three entrances, with one main entrance centered at the front of the building. “Bridges,” which were described as raised walkways, would lead people coming into the school through designated paths, allowing for a more funneled approach to the building, according to the presentation.

The Main Street scheme was the resounding favorite among both boards. The building, as Mr Svigal said, “curves out” like “two arms.”

“This all comes from one of the things that came up again and again in our conversations,” Mr Svigal said, “to have a sense of home.”

The Main Street design would have one long hallway, or “main street,” run from the cafeteria and gymnasium down to the library. The music room, art room, offices, and library would be situated at the front of the building, with wings for classrooms stretched out like roads off of a main street. One wing would hold the prekindergarten and kindergarten classrooms, with a separate entrance that can be locked and monitored, according to the presentation.

The other grade levels in the school, first through fourth grades, would be in two, two-story hallways. The stairs to the second floor classrooms would be near the entrance of the school, and a walkway on the second floor would connect the upstairs classrooms. Between each wing of the building would be an outdoor space, and at the end of each wing, Mr Svigal said, “tree houses,” a room that juts out into nature, would be placed. All classrooms would have access to natural light in the Main Street scheme.

The Courtyard scheme would also have the classrooms at the back of the school, the prekindergarten and kindergarten in a separate wing, but it would have two courtyards within the inner design of the school. The library would be at the center of the school, right before the entrance, with hallways separating it from flanking courtyards. The classrooms would also be housed on two floors of the school in the rear of the building. The library, due to the hallways on either side, would not have access to natural light, and not all of the classrooms would have natural light in the Courtyard scheme.

The Hybrid scheme combined elements of both the Main Street and the Courtyard schemes. Like the Courtyard, the library would be at the heart of the building, right at the center before the entrance. Two outdoor courtyards would be located between the front portion of the building and the back portion, where classrooms would be located. The classrooms, like in the Main Street scheme, would branch off the building with outdoor space between each wing. Areas at the end of all the classroom hallways would also act like the “tree house” design of Main Street.

For each design the cafeteria and the gymnasium would share a stage between the two rooms, allowing either to be used as an auditorium.

After the three schemes were unveiled, members of both boards shared their views on the designs. While some did not voice which design was their favorite, each person who shared an opinion pointed to the Main Street design for different reasons.

After school board member Keith Alexander asked which scheme would be the least costly, the Svigals + Partners representatives explained the Main Street option would most likely be the least expensive, given it would have the smallest perimeter.

“We do have a limited budget,” Mr Alexander said, “and we are trying to keep it there.”

Other questions directed at the Svigals + Partners representatives asked about energy efficiency, whether deliveries to the school would impact students, and safety.

Board of Education member Michelle Ku said she thought the Main Street scheme had simplicity and elegance, and Public Building and Site Commission member Anthony D’Angelo said he thought it was “wonderfully efficient.”

As a practicing architect, Public Building and Site Commission Chair Robert Mitchell said he finds the Main Street scheme to have the most flexibility.

“The other ones, as much as I may like them, they appear forced on that site,” Mr Mitchell said. “And I like the fact that [the Main Street design] is reaching out into nature.”

His children graduated from Sandy Hook School 15 years ago, he said, and they both mentioned field trips outside on the school’s property as impacting lessons.

“I’m tending toward the Main Street scheme as really being the one that makes the best use of the site and brings it back into the school,” said Mr Mitchell.

But as the chairman of his commission, Mr Mitchell said it is his group’s duty to give the school board the school it wants.

“I want to make sure that we continue with an ongoing dialogue that will always be about meeting cost and always meeting schedule,” said Mr Mitchell.

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