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Svigals: Sandy Hook School Design Reflects Community’s Spirit

“There was never one ah-ha moment.”

That observation from architect Barry Svigals of Svigals + Partners came during an interview ahead of a community information meeting revealing the latest Sandy Hook School developments set for Thursday, June 5, after the print edition of The Newtown Bee went to press.

When asked if at any time since the earliest stages of conception, any contributor offered a single idea, thought, or inspiration that generated a major turning point in the development process, or significantly influenced a major design aspect, Mr Svigals was quick to reply.

He explained that in all his years, he has never seen a public project that was so influenced by so many voices, and resulting in a concept that was so organically tied to its community.

“We created an extraordinary process that produced dramatic effects,” Mr Svigals said. “Then it became our job to create context for those many aspirations. And we looked to the design team as shepherds of that communal creativity.”

All are welcome to attend the presentation scheduled from 7 to 8:30 pm in the Newtown High School Lecture Hall. Following the presentation, the Svigals design team and representatives from Consigli Construction will be available to answer questions from community members.

He said what townspeople and attendees to the June 5 meeting will see is the result of incremental development of input from hundreds of individuals springing from base concepts that have been fundamentally the same since the earliest stage design drafts.

Those ideas came from Newtown’s youngest citizens — students from the school community, as well as multigenerational Newtown residents, educators, and public officials who brought a sense of history to brainstorming and focus group sessions.

“Not much has changed since the earliest stages, and those earliest ideas are still very evident in the latest versions of plans and renderings,” Mr Svigals said. “At the same time, what people will see is the progressive refinement of original ideas developed through community input.” 

Striking Features

Some of the most striking features include a composite woodlike series of exterior panels that filter light, but also create an undulating feeling of the surrounding wooded parcels, with building peaks evident above that tree line representing the homes and buildings of Sandy Hook itself.

“When we looked at pictures of the community, especially some of those classic elevations, we wanted to capture that feeling in a very poetic way — create a more organic relationship between the town and the nurturing and natural environments within its borders,” he added. “As much as possible from the start, we tried to use almost every idea we got.”

The designer said at the heart of the inspirational community were 40 to 50 members of the School Based Building Advisory Committee (SBBAC) comprising teachers and staff of Sandy Hook School, parents, Newtown school district staff, members of the Board of Education, town staff, community representatives, and the design/construction team.

“Those committee members brought the strongest influences because they represented as broad a cross section as we had chairs to seat them,” Mr Svigals said. “What was so wonderful about the process was the participation from so many representatives from the community.”

Another trend reflected in the new school design is the clustering of public recreational and gathering areas that are part of the facility.

“This gives us an opportunity to keep learning and administrative spaces much less accessible — discreet separation that is also optimal for both security reasons and ease of maintenance,” he said. “It’s a concept we’ve been seeing for 10 or 15 years that is a current component of all recent school designs.” 

Light, Space, Love

Mr Svigals also noted the efforts toward maximizing the use of natural light and flowing space.

“Kids, like flowers, need love, attention, light and air to thrive,” he said. “This school is organized so it is clear as possible where things are. We want every child who comes into the building — like at home — to know where everything they need is, and where they are at all times. We want to provide a reassuring destination for them that gives them a feeling like they are home.”

Once the building is outfitted and occupied, Mr Svigals hopes the community will see the new Sandy Hook School as much for its unique features as for the results it produces among students, staff, and community members who utilize the facility.

“If I had one wish, it would be to look at how this school was created, how the process was created, encouraged, and benefited from so much care, concern, and inspiration from so many members of this community,” he said. “All of us are connected as humans with an ability to create both where we live and how we live. We set out to make this school beautiful and efficient, but it couldn’t be without the process Newtown adopted to create it.”

Visit the Sandy Hook School Project website for updates at www.sandyhook2016.com.

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