Hill School Brings Sunshine In

If one is in the new Hill School, they better not throw rocks because it certainly is going to be a glass house.

In a behind-the-scenes tour of the school, which is being buttoned up right now for the winter and just starting to take shape inside, one of the most prominent and striking features is certainly likely to be the amount of windows, outdoor views and natural light in the 690-student elementary school.

“We have really wanted to create something unique at this school and one of the elements was to create as many views of the outdoors as possible,” said Supt. Paul Dakin. “We want it to be a school where, even when you’re inside, you feel the sense of place being in the downtown area. We wanted to capitalize on the views of the new Stadium and to be an outward facing building.”

Mission accomplished.

Perhaps the highlights of the school are the views of the football field and Stadium from the first floor cafetorium and the second floor gymnasium. Both invite the outdoors inside and will feature tremendous views of the soon-to-be completed plaza area and Stadium.

The cafetorium is also a novel concept brought back from the past.

The old Whelan School and the current Lincoln School feature the unique 1970s idea of a cafetorium – which is really just a large cafeteria with a stage at one end so that it can double as an auditorium and performance space. It was an idea whose time had seemingly come and gone – as it was not incorporated in any other of the new schools – but has made a strong comeback now.

In the case of the Hill School, the stage will be available for use during lunch, and will also serve as the main performance area and meeting space area for the school. The music room is located directly behind the cafetorium stage and has direct access to the stage.

Adjacent to the cafetorium is the foyer area, which is wide open for three floors, capped off with a huge skylight that blankets the foyer and each central hallway area above it with natural light.

On the second floor, the gymnasium is the main feature on the west side of the new building.

It will be a full size, regulation gym with a floating wooden floor – the floating part being instituted in order to cut down on noise travelling through the floor to the music room and cafetorium. The gym can also be separated into two spaces if need be, and contains windows that stretch most of the way from the floor to the ceiling.

Another second floor feature is the library, which was non-existent in the current McKinley School. However, in the Hill School the library will face east and overlook the front turnaround – again featuring huge amounts of open glass. The library, overlooking the turnaround at the main entrance, is very much similar to the layout at the new Whelan School and Susan B. Anthony School.

McKinley Principal Ed Moccia said, indeed, the Hill School has taken elements from several schools and incorporated the best of them with small tweaks.

“We did look at the Whelan library and this is very much like it,” he said. “We also took a look at the Learning Commons in the high school and have incorporated several aspects we liked into our library, such as transparent, glass break-out rooms. We will have 60 computers in the library and you can have a class here and a staff meeting in the break-out room. It will hold about 80 people. It’s going to be an amazing space; very exciting. We have lots of elements from the other schools here, but tweaked to our needs.”

The wing along Park Avenue is the bulk of the classroom space.

Classrooms are designed like most of the other schools, including the Whelan, SBA and Rumney Marsh. Classrooms will run from one end of the hall to the other, with doors in the back and front of the room.

So far, there haven’t been any major, major hurdles to overcome during construction.

One outstanding issue is the power lines that run along Park Avenue.

Dakin said they will have to be relocated, and likely to the other side of the street. It’s still an issue that is being solved at the moment.

Simon Tempest and Jim Guarino, both of Hill International – the school district’s project management company, said it is an aggressive schedule and things are working out so far.

“It is a very aggressive construction schedule so we have to be on time and we are,” said Tempest.

Construction in the coming weeks will wrap up outside work, with a pavement binder being put on the turnaround this week. Things will move now to the inside of the building, where crews will begin putting the finish work on the spaces that are just now taking shape.

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