The first new public elementary school to be built in Worcester for more than a decade, Nelson Place School was designed to meet a broad array of needs, while hitting ambitious targets for energy efficiency. The school is a Pre-K through 6th grade, 600-student neighborhood school, which also serves half the district’s population with autism. Given the charge to create an inclusive learning environment for students with and without disabilities across a wide spectrum, great care was taken in understanding how the design of the building could best support a variety of learning and teaching styles, with flexibility for changing needs over time.
Nelson Place Elementary School opened its doors at the start of the new school year and so far students, teachers, staff, parents, and administrators are all very happy with the new space. At the dedication ceremony held in the new gymnasium last month, Principal Monica Poitras spoke of the excitement she has felt and seen in everyone who has entered the school, and she marveled at the opportunities offered by the new building, particularly in the potential for enhanced learning with increased technological capacity.
Every classroom has an interactive whiteboard, mobile technology is accessible throughout the school, and classrooms are additionally outfitted with a sound system and microphone for teachers, enabling them to communicate with the entire class without straining their voices, or communicate directly with one table at a time without disrupting the rest of the class.
The school has a number of unique features, including observation rooms adjacent to classrooms, which allows parents and professionals to observe without disruption to the classroom. Therapeutic planning rooms provide students with a space removed from the stimulation of classroom, where they can de-escalate until they are ready to return. An early childhood assessment space is also located in the new building, and additional classroom and office spaces are much welcome additions to the school. In all, the new building is twice the size of the former Nelson Place School.
But the energy efficiency measures taken in the design and construction of the building will result in this much larger school actually using about half the energy of the former school. The City of Worcester sought to make the school a model of energy efficiency, even targeting net zero energy, if possible, within the budget. Super insulated windows, wall and roof systems; photovoltaic solar panels; water use reduction; waste-management/recycling, and indoor air quality and daylighting all contribute to a building that is on track for both LEED certification and potentially zero energy building designation from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources.
Meeting goals for both energy efficiency and accessibility/inclusiveness alongside a host of other needs and desires for this major project required a collaborative approach that pulled together the insight, knowledge, and expertise of the school community, the City of Worcester and the entire project team.