West Hartford School Board Receives Update on New Charter Oak School Building

Architects unveil a circular structure at board's regular meeting on Tuesday evening.

The West Hartford Board of Education on Tuesday evening got an update from architecture firm Perkins Eastman on the new $45 million, 86,700-square-foot Charter Oak International Academy building.

The Perkins Eastman team unveiled a plan calling for a two-story circular building for the new magnet school that includes a courtyard in the center. In October 2013, Perkins Eastman displayed three different designs, including the circular version brought forth Tuesday evening.

The first story includes, among other things, an auditorium, a gymnasium, a cafeteria, pre-K, kindergarten, first grade and special education classrooms and the family resource center.

The second story, which includes about half as much space as the first, comprises classrooms for grades 2 through 5.

Architect Mike McCarthy said that the second floor moves away from the street, which helps with the light and shadow going into courtyard.

“[The building] is kind of like a wedding cake as it steps back,” McCarthy said.

The roof could serve as an outdoor learning space, McCarthy said, though plans had not been fleshed out how that would work.

While the circular building is a departure from the original building constructed in the 1920s, McCarthy said that steps were made to honor the original’s history.

The architects, McCarthy said, did their best to maintain the historic entry along Oakwood Avenue so it still has “a neighborhood school feel” and the auditorium also has a balcony.

In addition, McCarthy said that the new building, like the old one, would be made primarily of brick, with some wood included.

The building will be located in the center of the site, with two playscapes for grades K-2 and 3-5, respectively, in the north end (Sidney Avenue side) as well as an earth mound and a space for a learning garden.

The northwest corner has a playing field, and the southeast corner has a pre-K playscape.

There is a 102-space parking lot on the west side and a 24-space lot in the southeast corner.

A bus drop-off area is located on Flatbush Avenue.

Fritz Morris of Perkins Eastman said that the designers were close with respect to space, as the plans call for 87,000 square feet, which is about 300 feet off from what is approved.

School board members said they were pleased with the update, though there were some questions about specific items.

School board member Mark Zydanowicz asked whether there were any plans about having bleacher space in the gymnasium for the basketball court.

Currently, the gymnasium plan did not, according to Morris, due to input from staff who wanted kicking walls. But those plans could be altered. Also, Morris said that a second-level spectator gallery could be built for the gymnasium.

School board member Terry Schmitt also said parents had said that the entrance to Oakwood Avenue should be looked at as well to accommodate walkers.

Schmitt said that parents wanted an entrance at Oakwood Avenue, “not a wall.”

The architects are expected back next month to provided more detailed drawings as well as a cost estimate.

Still, school board Chairman Bruce Putterman said that he was "100 percent behind the plan."
whtfd January 08, 2014 at 07:26 AM
It seems a shame not to incorporate the 1920's front entrance/facade.


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