New School Design Team Hears From Residents

About three dozen town residents listened, watched, and interacted with a large group of project and design professionals who are part of the Sandy Hook School design team during an information forum held June 5 in the lecture hall at Newtown High School.

The 90-minute session was the latest in a series of public meetings and focus groups held as the new school project continues to gain traction. It served as an opportunity to unveil a number of building renderings and plans created by members of the project architectural firm Svigals + Partners, and Diversified Project Management, which is coordinating on the initiative.

After welcoming remarks from First Selectman Pat Llodra and School Superintendent Joseph V. Erardi, Jr, attention turned to the project experts.

During the first half of the session, various members of the design team took turns relating some points of local history and geographical inspiration that helped them develop the project to the point where it stands today.

They also shifted back and forth projecting hand painted renderings of exterior and interior aspects of the planned facility, along with various elevation drawings illustrating the building layout from a bird’s-eye perspective.

Geralyn Hoerauf from Diversified discussed the role her organization has been playing in the information gathering process, and principals from the design firm, founder Barry Svigals, partner Jay Brotman, and Julia McFadden, each took turns discussing project development issues.

Some of the latest design elements unveiled during the evening included details about creating a completely separate entrance for children attending the school’s pre-kindergarten program and how the design and orientation of the school conforms optimally to the topography and environment of the site, while preserving a zero overlap with the original Sandy Hook School footprint.

Attendees also learned how the planned gym and cafeteria will be adjoined by a two-sided performance stage which could open to either or both rooms depending on the size and scope of audiences or presentations; and the overarching “Main Street” feature ­— a broad central hallway extending from end-to-end that feeds foot traffic to each separate wing of the new facility.

In comments to The Newtown Bee before the meeting, Mr Svigals additionally mentioned the configuration of the sports and recreation areas inside and out, which provide optimal access during school hours with the ability to close off academic and administrative wings of the building while still permitting access to the playing fields and gym areas after school, in the evenings and on weekends.


Lively Q&A Session

One of the first questions asked was about the school project budget. Ms Hoerauf assured that the project will use a $50 million grant from the state to rebuild the school, but will stay within and likely below that budget cap.

Another question arose about the integration of energy conservation features. Svigals staffer Ilona Prosol said the town was very motivated to integrate solar technology into the project. She said the design integrates water conservation features inside and out, including a huge underground water tank that will collect storm runoff to be used to irrigate the school grounds and playing fields.

Additional runoff will flow into an expansive, seasonal rain garden that will span the front of the new school

The facility will also be fully air-conditioned and integrate state-of-the-art HVAC systems. The experts also fielded questions about indoor air quality measures and practices and the use of geothermal heating.

Design team member Bill Richter responded, saying that the soil conditions around the site were subpar for using geothermal features. He said to make such a system efficient would be challenging to the budget, and would not likely provide a satisfactory return.

An audience member asked for some clarity about why the exterior landscape design included an overlapping soccer and baseball field, instead of separate facilities that could be used simultaneously. Mr Brotman replied that because of the larger gym area and overall footprint of the new building and adjacent parking areas, it necessitated one of the only planning compromises that had to be made — the overlapping of the two playing fields.

He added that the school was not originally designed with a soccer field in mind, but because of educational and programming needs, a “league size” field was added that will be able to accommodate both the students and any teams or leagues playing in town.


Memorial & Security Concerns

A Sandy Hook parent asked about security in any area where a tribute or memorial might be eventually sited. Mr Svigals said that a designated area for that purpose has not been defined for specific use, and that his team is continuing to working with victims’ families, officials, and Sandy Hook community members on that aspect of the project.

A question about overall security elicited a reply from Mr Brotman, who said he would not disclose details about the security components of the design. But he did say that security procedures that are being developed will play an equally important role in staff and student safety.

Some discussion arose around a proposed land swap or grant, so designers could accommodate a small part of the parking area overlapping the Sandy Hook fire company property. But the status of negotiations on that aspect of the project were unclear.

Another person in attendance expressed concern about landscape features at the Riverside Road entrance to the school compromising sight lines for drivers and emergency vehicles attempting to exit the fire station, but Mr Richter responded that there would be no sightline issues once the entryway was completed.

A parent concerned about issues between children being dropped at school and bus traffic was told that the front exterior would be designed with highly controlled pedestrian traffic flow, driving all arriving drop-offs to a safe, central entry point to the school.

As the question and answer session drew to a close, Mr Svigals reminded residents that there would be both an owner’s representative and construction manager onsite at all times during the building process, protecting the community and ensuring all contractors were conforming to design and materials guidelines at all times.

A final question about the integrity of the planned flat roof brought a response from Mr Brotman that revealed one of the consulting team for roof is also currently working on the Washington, DC Capital Dome restoration.

“I’ve never seen enough snow or ice to test the structural guidelines required,” he said. “No Svigals schools have ever required snow clearing from their flat roofs.”

“We look at our buildings to last 100 years,” Mr Svigals said.

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