Winternitz: Renovation of schools could work well

Renovate existing Amherst elementary schools
Robert Winternitz
Published in the Amherst Bulletin, Dec. 29, 2016

It is time now that an alternative to the 750 student co-located school project be given serious consideration.

We have two nearly identical school buildings representing an architectural style and educational philosophy not in current fashion.

We need to step back and reexamine these buildings – and consider the possibilities hidden within them. A well-thought-out renovation designed by a competent architect with a background in educational buildings could address many of the shortcomings of these structures.

Such a project should encompass a thorough reimagining of the interior space. The existing floor plan need not constrain the design any more than what is necessary from a structural and engineering standpoint.

Much has been made of the lack of natural light inside the buildings. Yet the one-story design offers ample opportunity to bring in daylight through skylights.

In addition, the buildings have eight light courts specifically designed to bring light into the core of the building. There is room for additional windows to more fully utilize the natural light in these areas. The light courts as they exist now contain only crushed stone and a few yew bushes and are accessible only to maintenance staff, but these sheltered spaces could be used as class gardens or for student experiments in solar energy.

Any thorough renovation project would encompass improvements in energy efficiency through new HVAC systems.

In addition, the single story design gives a very favorable ratio of roof area to inside space, making them good candidates for a solar installation. With today’s technology, a significant amount of power could be generated on site.

Such a project should be guided and informed by the input from teachers, students and administrators familiar with the problems in these buildings. Since there are two buildings, the most effective way to proceed would be to renovate one building and then wait a year or two to gather information about how well the new design is working.

Then, experience gained could be put to use in further improving the design in the second building to be renovated.

The downside to this is the necessity of using temporary portable classrooms during the renovation. But there is enough space at both sites to accommodate this – and, if the problems with these buildings are as serious as reported, then the portable classrooms themselves may represent an improvement over the present situation.

All in all, renovation is the most efficient, least disruptive and most environmentally friendly option.

Robert Winternitz
Amherst

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