It is always exciting for the project team when a major school project reaches that culminating moment of a dedication ceremony and students, teachers, and the entire community come together to celebrate and enjoy the opening of their new school. This fall, LPA|A got to do that twice.
LPA|A took on two projects – South High Community School in Worcester and Major Howard W. Beal elementary school in Shrewsbury, within a few months of each other, embarking on a similar process along parallel timeframes, but with widely differing goals and results.
While South High is preparing students for college and the workforce, Beal is helping its youngest students make the transition to school and build a foundation for learning. The scale of South High is appropriately large, 347,000 square feet and, further, feels expansive. The district wanted large core spaces and a collegiate feel. Beal, while not a small building at 142,000 square feet, has been designed to create more intimate environments for young learners.
Both communities wanted to incorporate sustainable design features, outdoor learning spaces, and to bring creative elements into their lobby design that would reflect their own community and culture. Once again the form that those various elements took are unique to their school and community, based on their individual needs, desires and cultures.
At the Beal school, for example, there was a 20-year-old mural painted on the walls of the original building that had become a part of the school’s identity and curriculum. They had asked now internationally known children’s book author and illustrator Peter Reynolds to create the mural at an early stage of his career. The effort to preserve and continue to share this mural led to a new project which is also a defining feature of the new school. The new mural extends the length of the lobby and into the media center. Learn more about the artist’s vision for the design here.
At South High, the lobby project was led by a group of students from the school who collaborated with teachers and staff, designers and key members of the local community. Five components, each making use of different media, all express the concept of “community.” A history wall celebrates the 100-year history of the school community; a word wall comprised of students’ own words was gathered through a school-wide essay assignment; a digital wall will provide an ongoing venue for student voices; an art wall will showcase student and community art; and a lobby sculpture will provide a focal point for the space.
While both schools needed cost-effective, durable materials to keep ongoing maintenance costs low while also meeting the budgetary constraints of the project, South High was designed with a sophisticated color palette to provide a more adult color scheme, while Beal made use of bright colors, creating a cheerful, kid-friendly environment. Outdoor spaces at South include a synthetic turf field for district-wide use, and green space as you approach the site to create the look and feel of a campus experience. Outdoor spaces at Beal include fully accessible play areas, a pollinator garden, a sensory garden, and outdoor classrooms.
Importantly, both projects were completed on time and on budget, despite the significant and sustained challenges created by the pandemic’s arrival while construction was underway in both communities. Work at South stopped altogether for several weeks while challenges of labor shortages and the additional and evolving administrative and safety protocols were a concern in both communities. Fortunately, both schools were able to welcome students back to in-person learning this September.