March 14, 2018

Architects Present Preliminary Designs For New 5/6 School, PHS Renovation

By Donald Gilpin

Architects from Fielding Nair International and Spiezle Architectural Group presented their preliminary designs for a 5/6 school and the transformation of the Princeton High School (PHS) building at a special meeting of the Princeton Board of Education at the Valley Road administrative building last night.

The plans will continue to be adjusted based on feedback from the Board, staff, students, and the community, as Princeton Public Schools (PPS) prepares to submit its tentative design plans to the State Board of Education in April in preparation for a facilities referendum on October 2. 

Cost estimates should be available soon, according to Board Facilities Committee Chair Dafna Kendal. “We are waiting for feedback from the community on the plans presented, and we are aiming to have cost estimates and tax impact available within the next few weeks,“ she said.

Though the meeting took place after press time, PPS Communications Director Brenda Sewell was able to share some of the architects’ preliminary plans
yesterday afternoon.

High School

For PHS, Sewell noted, “The plan is to reclaim space internally through renovations to existing space and by creating new space in areas that are currently courtyards,” with the total square footage going from 320,000 to 374,000 and capacity increasing from 1,800 to 2,100 students.

Seeking maximum impact on learning and making sure to “align the spaces with our educational goals,” the proposed designs create a “school heart,” a “collaborative hub,” and “flexible learning zones.”

The PHS entryway will be redesigned, leading to a courtyard that will be converted into the heart of the school, “a bright and welcoming multi-story space where students can gather to study independently, work collaboratively, and attend presentations, lectures, and other events,” Sewell reported. “Already, teachers have talked about how this space, and spaces in the collaborative hub, would allow them to gather multiple classes together for more informal lectures and presentations.”

The high school’s two other courtyards will be converted into a collaboration hub with a media commons at its center. There will be spaces for collaboration on each side of the media commons, and the second floor of the collaboration hub will include a tech hub where students will be able to work on such projects as robotics, 3-D printers, and engineering initiatives.

The flexible learning zones, comprised of classroom spaces of different sizes, seminar rooms, teacher offices, collaboration spaces, and shared common spaces, will, according to Sewell, “better utilize space than the traditional hallways and classrooms that we have today.”

In addition, at PHS, a second story will be added to the workout facility with a wrestling space and a space that can be used for dance, yoga, and other purposes. The second story of the learning commons will also be renovated to make the current balcony space and the rooms behind it accessible and usable for student learning.

5/6 School

Located on the Valley Road property with the main entrance off of Valley Road, the building will be approximately 85,000 square feet with a capacity of more than 650 students.

Focusing on nurturing students during their pre-adolescent years, the building, according to Sewell, will feature “a bright, open space that will function as the physical heart of the building.” It will be an area which teachers can use for a variety of activities and where students can work in small groups or independently.

This area will be connected to a space for student dining, which will lead to a covered outdoor patio where students can eat and teachers can bring classes.

Flexible learning zones on the first floor will include classrooms of different sizes, teacher offices, collaboration spaces, and common spaces for students to work together or classes to gather. On the second floor will be additional flexible learning zones, art and music classrooms, the school library, and multi-use spaces.

Sewell added that in addition to playground and garden spaces, outdoor spaces still being considered include an amphitheater and naturalist spaces. “We want the 5/6 school to be a sustainable ‘living building,’” she said, “which is not more costly to build, but brings significant energy savings and creates additional learning opportunities for students. This might include solar heat, rainwater collection, solar panels, and a green roof.”

Last night’s presentation focused on PHS and the new 5/6 school, but final referendum plans will also include enhancements to athletic fields, as well as security and HVAC upgrades at all schools.

“The design of the 5/6 school and the renovations at PHS will better support how our students learn and the way our teachers want to teach,” Sewell concluded.

Expressing her approval of the planning and design work so far, Kendal noted, “I think our approach and process has been very comprehensive and inclusive. To ensure we are meeting the needs of all stakeholders, we have set up separate design teams focused on the renovations to the high school, the design of the 5/6 school, athletics, sustainability, community services, and incorporating the history of the Valley Road school into the 5/6 school design.”