NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Natural light, durability, security and child-friendly vibes are all hallmarks of schools designed by TSKP Studios.
The School Building Committee heard a presentation last week by the Hartford, Conn., design team that will be taking on the feasibility study for the Brayton/Greylock school project. The committee approved hiring the architecture firm in June. TSKP, formerly Tai Soo Kim Partners, is an award-winning design firm that has done projects for schools, colleges and museums in New England and South Korea.
North Adams' team will include Randall Luther, principal at TSKP, with Jesse Saylor as project manager and Julia McFadden as lead architect.
Luther said Saylor was one the company's most experienced architects and McFadden the most experienced in community outreach, which will be "instrumental in moving the project forward."
"If you were to visit any of our projects, there are certain kinds of themes that are recurrent," said Luther, but continued that "we always try and look at each project fresh. Every community, every program, every site are usually totally different. And they really require a set of unique responses. And so we do an enormous amount educational work to try to you know, wipe the slate clean and start a clean page every time."
One of those recurrent themes is access to natural light. Luther said numerous studies have shown people work better and feel better with lots of light and connections to the outdoors.
"that's some of the issues with schools you have right now, access to the light," he said. "It's really important that wherever you are in the building that you can kind of see what's going on [outside.]
"It would be even more lovely perhaps if we had views of the beautiful scenery which you have around here that's spectacular. So the world is really changing rapidly and we need to design spaces that can accommodate changes that we can't even begin to perceive."
The goal is to make the design flexible for an unknown future but also incorporate non-intrusive security and safety. Luther said it's not about building a fortress but the opposite and that TSKP has had a lot of success in that area.
Planning for the future also means preparing for the normal wear and tear that these buildings will undergo during the decades-long lifetimes. Finishes need to stand up to abuse and that the scale also has to be taken into account because the main occupants will be children.
The team will also look at energy efficiency and the firm is currently working on four schools — at various design steps — that will be net zero.
"Sometimes it's somewhat controversial that we believe that schools should be child friendly," Luther said, and quoted Mr. Rogers: "Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood."
He said the concept was "somewhat controversial" because of their design for a Connecticut school that incorporated a slide to the cafeteria.
"We thought it would be great if the kids could take a slide to lunch every day. Well, when we presented this to the town council, some members were outraged, acturally outraged that we would spend public dollars on a slide, something that's superfluous," he said. "That was a minority view. But it was a very controversial thing for a while."
Since then, he's learned from talking to staff is that they love it, and it's often used as a reward for good behavior.
Luther said one of the differences he's found in working in two states is that Connecticut pushes renovation and Massachusetts leans toward new construction.
"Since our home office is in Connecticut, we do a lot of renovation work," he said. "Unlike most Massachusetts firms that do not do a lot of renovation work ... and if that's the way that makes sense in this space, we're perfectly comfortable with it."
Because most of their work has been renovations and addition, Luther said they have a lot of experince in phasing projects while schools are open. That will require blocking out large areas for work and timing schedules so the heaviest work is done during the summer.
He said the main drivers of the project's budget will be determined in early in the process with the feasibility study and the decisions that will come from that.
"We're getting at those decisions that we're going to make on the program, where we do the visioning, whether we do a reno or new, where these things are going in or whether these initiatives are going or not," he said. "Those are the big decisions that are really going to set the budget. ...
"Your ability to make changes and to tweak where you can save money gets smaller and smaller and smaller. So you know, we bring in our most experienced people now because this is when it matters."
The study will include the implications in terms of phasing, the costs and the pros and cons for each option with the hope that the committee will "coalesce around an option that makes the most sense."
"I think it is a nice place to close though in bringing it back to our options, right, because we do have two schools that are also part of the consideration representing to two communities," said Superintendent Barbara Malkas. "I think that's very appropriate because I want to acknowledge that Greylock is still on the map. Right. And Brayton is still on the map, that both of these sites have consideration as we move forward into feasibility."
Luther acknowledged that communities feel passionate about their schools but at the same time, consolidations have been a reality. The fundamental issue, he said, is how you get to that consensus about which school makes the most sense.
The committee approved the fee proposal from TSKP of $645,000. Mayor Jennifer Macksey said this had been reviewed by MSBA reminded the committee that this will come from the school choice funds appropriated to the city's side of the ledger.
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