Consolidating Schools Equals Efficiency

Central Community Elementary School offers better operating systems and more programming space (Facility of the Month)

by Jessie Fetterling

School Construction News

Feb 13, 2017.

The new 97,000-square-foot Central Community Elementary School in Corinth, Maine, was constructed to consolidate five rural elementary schools into one energy-efficient building. Its design not only includes better operating systems, but also offers more programming space to give the district’s PreK-5 students more educational opportunities.

Brewer, Maine-based Nickerson & O’Day Inc. completed construction on the nearly $21.4 million facility in time for the 2016-2017 school year, while Harriman, with offices in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, served as the architect. The new school serves approximately 530 students from the towns of Bradford, Corinth, Hudson, Kenduskeag and Stetson, replacing each town’s outdated elementary school. The new consolidated school was constructed on a 70-acre plot of land already owned by the RSU No. 64 school district and is situated roughly one mile from the district’s middle and high schools.

The state of Maine funded 98 percent of the project based on the district’s funding application. The RSU No. 64 school district applied for funding for the first time for all of its elementary schools, and the Corinth Elementary School project ranked No. 1 on the state’s funding list. It is very unusual to apply for the first time and end up with a No. 1 rated school, according to Jeff Larimer, AIA, principal for Harriman.

“This was an opportunity for the district to consolidate all schools into one brand-new school located in Corinth, where the middle school and high school were already located,” Larimer said. “Some of the schools [had enrollments of] less than 100 students each, so it brought all the students together and shut down these tiny elementary schools that had no gyms, cafeterias or libraries and created a new school that had all the amenities [the district] needed.”

ALL INCLUSIVE DESIGN PROCESS

Harriman applied an all-inclusive approach to the design process by distributing questionnaires to school representatives and staff to elicit specific feedback on individual classrooms and other spaces. The next step was conducting one-on-one interviews to meet with as many staff members as possible to talk about the building’s overall design.

“This provides a lot of input in terms of design information as well as part of the programming aspect, so we have a clear understanding of the size of spaces needed,” Larimer said.

He added that some of the existing schools lacked many critical spaces. In one school operating without a cafeteria, lunches were brought in daily from the nearby middle school and students had to eat at their desks. Other schools didn’t even offer a library and instead relied on periodic visits from a bookmobile.

Staff at the existing schools obviously had a lot of needs and very long wish lists. They particularly wanted to add art and music teachers, according to Larimer. “[The elementary schools] didn’t have those teachers on staff because they didn’t have those types of spaces, so we had to meet with teachers from the middle school and high school to see what would be taught and required of those spaces,” he added.

NEW OPPORTUNITIES

Harriman designed the new facility to include a two-story classroom wing that is separate from non-academic spaces. Kindergarten and grades one and two take up classrooms on the first floor, while fourth and fifth grade students are housed on the second floor. Five classrooms per grade level are arranged in clusters to support teacher collaboration. There are also dedicated rooms for special education services and gathering spaces to accommodate multiple classes for common programs.

Perhaps the most significant advantage of the new elementary school is that it gives PreK-5 students access to more amenities than were available in the smaller individual elementary schools. That includes everything from art and music rooms to a cafeteria and gymnasium, as well as a PreK program space that had not previously been available in any of the schools.

“We were looking for a building that could support students in ways that they didn’t have in the others,” said Rhonda Sperrey, superintendent of schools for RSU No. 64. “For instance, there wasn’t physical therapy or occupational therapy available for special-education students, and we didn’t have space for a prekindergarten program; however, we were able to add that to our existing programs with the addition of this facility.”

Most of these newer program spaces are situated in the interdisciplinary wing, which connects to the academic wing. Also included in this area are a cafeteria with a full-production kitchen and a gymnasium. These two spaces in particular are linked by a common stage for school events. The cafeteria can also be divided into two smaller spaces for more flexibility of use.

The school’s color scheme of blue, green, yellow and orange pays homage to the surrounding area’s natural elements such as lakes, rivers, farmland and trees that were mentioned in a popular local book by Children’s author Chris Van Dusen.

The school’s three PreK classrooms are located near the front of the school to make student pick up and drop off more convenient for parents. Also surrounding the school are a multi-use athletic field, an open play area, three separate playgrounds to accommodate the school’s varying age groups and ample parking for staff and visitors.

In line with other school projects that the state has completed, the new Central Community Elementary School includes space for the district to consolidate superintendent offices and other district services into one central location, which is also within close proximity to the nearby middle and high schools. Larimer said that the superintendent’s office was previously located in an old Cape Cod-style house that was severely undersized and cramped.

BUILDING EFFICIENCIES

While the consolidated school has certainly given students access to more programming space and amenities, it has also allowed the district to improve its overall operational and environmental efficiency.

The new elementary school was positioned in a way that it takes advantage of natural daylight, with half of the classrooms facing South and the other half facing North, according to Larimer. A daylight harvesting system automatically adjusts the level of lighting in classrooms, while corridor and office lighting use LED bulbs to maximize energy efficiency.

“The secret of hanging all these South-facing classrooms is being able to contain the solar glare as well as heat gain,” Larimer said. “The project team also used solar glass on the South-facing windows to maintain high visibility, but, at the same time, reduce heat transmission coming into the windows as well as visible light.”

One of the bigger discussions for the project involved choosing the best heating system. The project team ultimately selected a hybrid heating plant, with the primary biomass boiler providing 80 percent of the peak heat load and a supplemental propane boiler for additional heat during peak heating periods. The biomass boiler is a wood pellet system complete with storage silos, a conveying system to deliver pellets to the boiler based on demand and an automatic ash removal system to minimize maintenance. Radiant heat in slabs and all floors and displacement ventilation systems are also in place.

“The district wanted to make sure that whatever was used was pretty straightforward and was a tried-and-true system,” Larimer said.

Larimer added that the project team explored a number of different options, particularly when it came to the heating system, and spent several months reviewing different options, including traditional, geothermal and biomass systems.

“We provided an analysis for the different systems for potential upfront costs and long-term costs. One thing we wanted to make sure was that we designed an efficient system that exceeded what the current energy codes required,” he said.

COMMUNITY SUPPORT

While consolidating the schools provided more programming opportunities and better efficiencies, it also posed a challenge as some people opposed moving schools out of their communities.

“The biggest challenge for the project was bringing the five towns together,” Larimer said. “In any rural area where they have small individual schools, a lot of teachers and parents aren’t necessarily on board with the consolidation effort. It wasn’t so much of a challenge for us, but it was for the school district to make sure everyone was on board.”

Securing the community’s support became an initial hurdle for the district, and Harriman was involved in several public forums to help outline the concept design and budget. In the end, voters largely approved the project, according to Larimer, but up until the day the school opened, some remained unhappy with losing their small-town schools.

“It was a process to get [the community] to a place where they really embraced the project,” Sperrey said. “There’s something to be said for the small-community environment in small cities. Some people came to it quicker than others, but since everyone comes together in middle and high school, it only made sense.”

“In the end, everyone bought into the idea, and it’s been accepted by the communities,” Larimer added. “At the open house, a couple-hundred people showed up, which is very unusual for a rural community.”

When the school opened, approximately 530 students were in attendance, but the new school is design to accommodate 580 if needed in the future, Larimer said.

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