HARVARD — Hildreth Elementary School on Mass. Avenue will have some special guests for the next two years: construction workers building a brand new building for students.
Ground was broken on the construction of a new school building last month. According to Larry Spang, a principal architect at Arrowstreet, the new facility will be built on a playing field adjacent to the current building after two years of the designing process.
Spang anticipates that the 85, 215 square-foot building will be completed by May 2021, after which the old building will be torn down and replaced with a new playing field for students.
"Harvard has a lot of priorities on educational goals and the old building didn't have the proper size to meet them," Spang said on Tuesday.
The new building will have 25 core curriculum classrooms with four classrooms for each of the grades one through five, along with classrooms for pre-k and kindergarten.
The building's first floor will hold classes for pre-k, kindergarten, grades one and two, while the second floor will hold classes for grades three through five. Spang noted that the classrooms themselves have been widened compared to the rooms in the old building to avoid such constraining learning environments.
"Kids are learning in different ways now," Spang said. "The method of teachers being at the front of the classroom is a way of the past. Now kids work individually or in small groups. These classrooms will have more breakout room and space for informal working areas. Whatever keeps kids focused."
Spang noted how even the furniture of certain classrooms could avoid the norm, suggesting other classrooms could have chairs that roll, teeter or even bounce. He said that furniture for the classrooms will be selected this fall.
"Kids like that sense of movement and can actually focus better when they're moving," he concluded.
Of course the school will have the typical amenities for lessons without desks, including a gymnasium, a cafeteria, a library and a program room. However, Spang pointed out changes to those routine rooms as well. The library, for instance, will have a special design quirk of having two of its walls gone from its structure. This, Spang said, creates a more open space for students to simply drop by and study, read or take part in activities. It would also open the corridor in the building to make the school less confined.
"It makes things more flexible and usable," Spang said.
There's also the school's Maker Space, which Spang said is meant to host labs and activities for science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, activities.
Then there's the gymnasium, which Spang said will double as something of a community center by being open after school hours and during the weekend. This way the town can host evening and weekend activities for seniors along with local youth basketball games. There's also the larger size of the gym, which Spang said was needed.
"The saying of 'the kids are running into the wall' is quite literal in this case," Spang said.
The cafeteria will also be larger with staff giving a greater emphasis on nutritional options. Spang noted how the cafeteria will be located at the southwest corner of the building, allowing it to be located in a nicer spot of the school in display for visiting parents.
Even passing pedestrians can enjoy the view of the school, which Spang said was designed to follow the historic design of other buildings in town.
"I think on the design side of things, we spent a lot of time making the building work with the community," he said. "It's going to be one of the largest buildings in town and getting it to fit in with the rest of town took getting design cues from the historic nature of the town. It's been wonderful working with the community on this."
Jon Winkler: jwinkler@ nashobavalleyvoice.com