Back to school: What’s in Design, Under Construction, and Trends in Education

Back to School on the boards 2021

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As architects and engineers who specialize in educational design, back to school is always an exciting time around the office at LAN Associates. Reactions to finished projects pour in as new school buildings, additions, and renovations are seen for the first time by students and teachers, and communities are all thinking about education and what the future will bring. 

LAN celebrates back to school by highlighting a handful of districts we are working with to feature projects in design or under construction. This year we continue our tradition with special attention paid to trends like wellness focused design, technology, and 21st century learning, which can help alleviate certain issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is a look at what some school districts have in the works.  

Bronxville Union Free School District Opens Its Doors, Focuses on Flexible Learning  

Originally constructed in the 1920’s, the nearly 100-year-old Bronxville School, in Bronxville, New York was made new again through a series of additions and renovations. A new entrance addition was seamlessly integrated to simultaneously blend in with the existing historic structure and provide a sense of fresh, modern design. The design was finalized after a first vote bond referendum passed in 2018, and it was built to provide a 21st century learning experience. This goal resulted in features that lend themselves to the adjustments necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new entrance opens into a new main lobby with high ceilings and a collegiate feel. On the third floor, flexibility and technology are key, with a new “Learning Commons.” This open common area is fitted with “Think Pods” that come complete with interactive touch displays to encourage student interaction and collaboration in small groups. Also new is the state-of-the-art “Innovation Center” which is a STEM lab equipped with the latest instructional technology and movable furnishings.  

Mamaroneck Union Free School District Goes All in on Outdoor Learning

In the wake of COVID-19 many school districts are maximizing every opportunity to hold classes outdoors. In addition to outdoor learning being an ideal way to combat the spread of COVID-19, research shows a connection to nature and outdoor learning has been linked to improved concentration and imagination as well as an increase in independence and autonomy, and a decrease in bullying. LAN is working in conjunction with Biosphere Landscape Architecture to create five outdoor learning spaces across three schools in Mamaroneck, New York.

  • At Hommocks Middle School (Image), a more welcoming main entrance will serve as a gathering area, and a new outdoor classroom/cafeteria greenspace is being designed with breakout spaces and abundant greenery.
  • At Mamaroneck High School, a cafeteria greenspace is being created along with a redesigned courtyard.
  • At Mamaroneck Avenue Elementary School, a kindergarten playground and greenspace is being fitted to improve site conditions and provide shade with the end goal of holding outdoor classes.

All designs include a mix of integrated seating options, trees, shrubs, grasses, perennials, and solutions to provide adequate shade.

The Voorhees Township School District Builds a Future With Full Day Kindergarten

In Voorhees, New Jersey, the district celebrated the groundbreaking for a new addition at Kresson Elementary School in late July. The new addition will be the permanent home to their newly implemented full-day Kindergarten program.  The 14,400 sf addition, which includes ten new, and five newly renovated kindergarten classrooms is built to embrace modern educational modalities. Adaptability and technology are front and center with flexible furniture to help shape the classroom to fit different lesson plans, or the need to social distance. In the corridors, recessed benches and pin-up space is reserved for every classroom, and a new multi-use lobby doubles as a break-out space.

Orange Revitalizes an Elementary School with Additions and Renovations

LAN is working with the School Development Authority (SDA) and the Board of Education in Orange, New Jersey, on an addition and renovations at the Cleveland Elementary School.  The $21M addition will provide 11,500 sf to supplement the existing school with a new main entrance at ground level, multipurpose room with stage, prep kitchen with servery, three-story link with elevator, and restrooms located on all three floors. The renovations include new classrooms, administrative offices, and shared amenities such as a gym, art/science project lab, music room, reading room and a computer lab. The project is midway through construction with a target opening for the 2022 – 2023 school year.

Keansburg Makes a Major Investment in Pre-K

In April, Keansburg, New Jersey, and the School Development Authority broke ground on an addition and accompanying renovations designed by LAN Associates. The project includes a 27,000 sf addition and 19,000 sf renovation that will be devoted to the education of 300 Pre-K students.  Combined, the addition and renovations will provide 21 new preschool classrooms, along with a renovated main office, a renovated motor skills room, nurses’ suite, and a 1,400 sf food service area. An easily accessible courtyard will contribute to student wellness through a connection to nature. Classrooms along its perimeter will provide easy access to the outdoor space through secondary doors that open directly into the courtyard, and large glass windows will provide natural light for students inside.

River Vale Public Schools Passes Major Referendum for a Future Focused on Student Wellness

Voters in River Vale, New Jersey passed a major referendum in April that included an investment in student wellness. The “strong schools, strong community” referendum focuses on critical capital improvements like new HVAC systems and roof replacements. The district also approved the construction of a student wellness center at Holdrum Middle School. The space will be designed for flexibility and to accommodate innovative instruction techniques both inside and outdoors.

Also included is new construction for additional corridors that will improve student circulation and reduce overcrowding between classes by blocking off dead end hallways. Not only will this help promote social distancing, but by connecting each wing of the school with these new hallways, the project will create two courtyards. These new, safe, outdoor areas will promote a connection to nature through calming educational gardens and space that can be used for outdoor study.

Florham Park Is Wrapping Up Year Two of Major Referendum Work

Florham Park School District is wrapping up year two of construction on major school improvements approved by voters in a 2019 referendum.  The work is concentrated at the Ridgedale Middle School. Projects included an upgraded media center and an auditorium, which includes new stage lighting, new sound system, new seating, new finishes and improvements to the HVAC system.

Also included in the improvements are six bathroom renovations, new energy efficient LED lighting and controls, ceiling replacements, HVAC system upgrades, and the transformation of the existing wood shop area into a STEAM lab.  

Districts Across the Board Invest in Ventilation

2020 and 2021 have brought a surge in school districts reevaluating their HVAC systems and facilities’ ventilation. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools from Winslow, River Vale, Mahwah, Plainfield, Roselle Park, Rockaway, and Ramapo Indian Hills have engaged LAN’s mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineers to update or replace their HVAC systems to help decrease the spread of airborne illnesses.

Since the onset of the pandemic, LAN has updated our standard of design for all school projects to include recommendations from the CDC & ASHRAE and to include higher levels of filtration (MERV-13 or higher), some form of air purification (UV-C, bipolar ionization, photocatalytic oxidization), and the ability for increased outside air where applicable. None of these measures are code required but have been shown to minimize the spread of the virus in buildings. You can read about the benefits of updated HVAC in LAN’s Guide to COVID-19  HVAC mitigation strategies.

What We Are Seeing Across All Our K-12 Educational Projects:

The education market is LAN’s core competency. Our architects, engineers, surveyors, and environmental professionals work with school districts on a daily basis.  Over the past year we have worked side by side with board of education members, superintendents, teachers, and district officials as they worked tirelessly to provide a comprehensive curriculum under unprecedented limitations.  Not only have they risen to the challenge and delivered a true 21st century learning expertise, but they have begun to plan for a future that includes an increased focus on health and student wellness through architecture and engineering.

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