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Scarsdale BOE Selects KG&D Architects for High School and District Master Plans

kgdentryAfter extensive interviews with many leading architects, the Scarsdale Board of Education announced that they would retain KG&D to develop a master facilities plan for Scarsdale High School and a district-wide facilities feasibility study -- both to be voted on in a community-wide referendum in late 2014. The Board also appointed a Master Plan Steering Committee comprised of administrators, faculty, community members, parents and students to work with the firm on the plan.

In order to select the firm, Assistant Schools Superintendent Linda Purvis had initial meetings with many firms and invited five to make full presentations to the Board of Education. Three firms were selected as finalists and met with the Board on October 29th and 30th. Peter Gisolfi, KG&D, and Mitchell/Giurgola gave follow-up presentations and on Monday, November 4th the Board met and announced that they would award the work to KG&D.

All three firms emphasized the need for the creation of flexible learning spaces, venues for collaborative learning and for more light and transparency in the relatively dark high school. The all discussed the process, planning and how they would work with all stakeholders to formulate plans that would pass muster with the community.

Peter Gisolfi and Associates had a whole evening to present on Monday October 29th. Since the firm designed the Scarsdale Middle School, the SHS Library and the new high school gym, they were on familiar territory and presented their vision for updating the high school so that the facilities align with the district's educational mission. Gisolfi was accompanied by Michael Tribe, Ken Poiman who is an architect and a civil engineer and Diane Abate, an architect who has worked with the firm for 13 years.

The question of the night was "what do you do with a 228,000 square foot high school – which has portions that date back to kgdrotundathe early 1900's?" In an effort to demonstrate how they would re-imagine Scarsdale High School they shared slides of similar work they did to transform the Irvington Middle and High Schools into a campus that was unified by a connecting colonnade. The campus includes a dazzling glass cafeteria and library, state of the art science labs, and an auditorium that seats 700 and looks like it could be located at Lincoln Center.

The Masters School is also another longtime client of Gisolfi, who has worked with them for 18 years as they quadrupled the size of their student body. They are now in the process of designing an 80,000 square foot addition. Included in the plans are a new swimming pool, elevated indoor track, experimental black box theatre and ample light and transparency.

At Hackley, another Westchester private school, Gisolfi did a master plan for the 280-acre campus and created a ring road around the facilities, some of which dates back to 1903. As part of their plan they created new or enhanced spaces for kids to hang out or work with faculty and added serendipitous communal spaces throughout the building. Glass doors were provided for every classroom to allow in light and create a sense of community. They drilled 26 wells for geothermal heat and the facility now runs on just 15% of the energy that was formerly needed.

Similar work was shown from Trevor Day School and the Browning School in Manhattan, Rye Country Day School and Manhattanville College.

They turned to ideas for transforming Scarsdale High School, and proposed designing with the following concepts and values in mind:

  • Transparency
  • Communal Arrangements
  • Serendipitous student spaces
  • Flexible space for overlapping disciplines
  • Indoor-outdoor connections
  • Student centered learning
  • Experiential learning
  • Access to faculty
  • Opportunities for collaboration
  • Diverse instructional spaces

They explained how they would collaborate with the administration and community to reach a solution that addresses the needs of Scarsdale. The process would start with a definition of the student program and objectives. A construction committee would be formed to work with the stakeholders, board and community.
Architects would do analyses and define the program, present alternatives and finally develop the preferred plan. Speaking about the process Gisolfi said, "When we start we don't know where we are going, but something develops as we go through the process."

More concrete proposals to transform the Scarsdale High School included using the schools' system of courtyards to create light and transparent space for flexible learning. Dark corridors could be brightened with windows and bumped out to create space for student-faculty collaboration. The auto shop and faculty cafeteria could be converted into a learning commons and maker space. Rather than have a separate faculty cafeteria, the architects proposed that students and faculty eat together to facilitate collaboration.

The following night, October 30, KG&D, (Kaeyer, Garment and Davidson) spearheaded by Russ Davidson, President, promised inclusive and transparent processes from the start to the completion of the project. He proposed the following process for the formulation of a district master plan:
1. Research- Architects and a steering committee would make site visits to innovative learning environments in the area, arranging for guest lecturers or advisors, researching future trends in technology, analyzing the demographics, and using existing space
2. Analyze- Including studies of building capacity, room utilization surveys to optimize space, and benchmarking to similar projects
3. Explore options- Architects will deveop options with price tags and weigh the pros and cons of each. For example, subject departments could be decentralized, or areas could be clustered by grade or theme (such as liberal arts)
4. Refine master plan- In this phase, the design would be conceived, budget developed, and final plan presented
5. Develop phasing plan for project conception and completion- Since educational facilities don't close, the work would be well planned in order to have minimal disruptions to learning

KG&D has extensive experience building and renovating schools, and much of their work has been done in Westchester. They have been involved in redesign projects at Horace Greeley, White Plains High School, SUNY Purchase (science classrooms), Pleasantville, Brewster, Chappaqua, Bronxville, Eastchester, John Jay, Somers, Valhalla, and Briarcliff. In addition, they have done several stepped theatres (such as for the Harvey School) and discussed, with diagrams, the multi-purpose space that a stepped theatre could provide at a place like Scarsdale High School.

KG&D saw several opportunities at Scarsdale High School and pointed them out to the Board. Mr. Davidson spoke about adaptive re-use of underutilized yet large areas, such as the gym, and presented an idea to make it a multi-use space- a theatre, a study area, and a lunch room with 600 seats plus auxiliary seating. He also drew attention to the small size of the science facilities; the science classrooms are well below the state-recommended size for biology, chemistry, and physics. KG&D could make the science rooms larger with a renovation by decreasing the corridor space and eliminating a room altogether. Mr. Davidson saw additional opportunities for a small theatre and an innovation lab. He proposed that the currently underutilized auto shop could become a learning center and the corridors could become common use spaces with modern, strategically placed common areas called "learning commons."

Last, KG&D discussed the interior finishing plan for the schools which would be durable, maintainable, sustainable, aesthetically pleasing, and constructed within agreed upon budget parameters. The firm would meet with the steering committee at various stages of the project to ensure that it was staying on budget.

Suzanne Seiden, President of the Board of Education, questioned how long it would take to complete the project, and if they would be willing to work with a steering committee. "Between six months and the end of the next school year," said Davidson. "Five to six months is the right amount of time. We do work with steering committees and would welcome that." Ms. Seiden responded that she hopes to present a bond to the community by December 2014.

Another Board member asked who in the firm would work with Scarsdale during the project and KG&D assured the Board that the four people presenting that night would be the four people assigned to the project, and they would add to the staff as well. They were also asked if other high schools in the area were ahead of Scarsdale. "The science facilities are very dated," responded Davidson. "Physical buildings don't build science success, but it helps with outlook to have updated facilities."

Mitchell/Giurgola Architects presented next. They are a full-service firm that offers master planning, programming, architecture, and interior design. They are an award-winning firm and 80% of their work is done with former clients. They claim that they offer exceptional partnerships because they listen and engage clients at all stages with significant partner-level involvement. Mitchell/Giurgola mainly works in New York City and they are accustomed to working in the public school setting.
John Doherty, a partner at the firm, would be the lead project manager for the Scarsdale schools renovation and was the primary presenter. His design process and project approach includes data collection and program development, such as interviewing stakeholders and developing space inventory.

Mr. Doherty first discussed plans for Heathcote. "Heathcote has a clear order to it; it's logically laid out," said Mr. Doherty. He discussed adding a new multi-purpose space to the school and creating an addition consistent with the layout of the school. He did note that it could be challenging to do the addition without disrupting the current order.
The high school master plan would include an analysis of building spaces, classrooms, and shared spaces, as well as faculty offices. He suggested that the board and faculty consider different ways to organize faculty offices to increase their visible availability to students.

Mr. Doherty thinks that because Scarsdale schools have a long-term academic vision, the building itself should coincide with this vision. He believes it is possible to create a transparent, communal environment for learning. He described the school as a village with a network of hallways and social areas as roadways and pit-stops. He commented that nodes in the corridors could be used as flexible, shared learning spaces. (Nodes are where the larger corridors and stairs meet.) He discussed that nodes would create an opportunity for natural light and are relatively inexpensive to build. Mr. Doherty presented examples of collaborative learning environments. They are all bright with large windows and open up the corridors for common/collaborative learning spaces.

Mr. Doherty expressed interest in using the very large gym for something other than rarely used athletic activities and cafeteria overflow and suggested it could be reconfigured as mixed use space, including a theatre.

In order to implement the plan, Mitchell/Giurgola would set priorities agreed upon by the firm and the steering committee, develop an implementation strategy and phasing plan, and coordinate implementation with a funding stream.
Suzanne Seiden exclaimed, "There are lots of stakeholders here. Can you tell us how you've worked with advisory groups in the past?" Mr. Doherty responded that his firm has generally worked with a building committee. He stated that there would need to be a decision maker for collaboration purposes. He anticipated that there would be many meetings and it would be important that all voices be heard, including administration, faculty, students, and community. The architects described themselves as responsive, describing the process as iterative and continual.

Ms. Seiden asked, "What is your experience in working with a suburban school district and getting community support for the bond?" Mr. Doherty responded by saying that they've never had an issue with a public school but with private schools, there is a significant fundraising component, so they need to "sell" themselves more in that environment.
Board member Jonathan Lewis was intrigued by the corridor space presentation. He asked about the possibility of providing different types of food at these different intersections, essentially disaggregating food service by providing it at more than one service point.

Board member Sunil Subbakrishna asked if there were any obvious energy saving opportunities, but Mr. Doherty responded that this was not evaluated for this proposal. However, he did recommend an energy audit and claimed that renovations done by their firm would be sustainable.

Ultimately, the Board decided to go with KG&D. Sunil Subbakrishna said their work was creative and they appeared to be easy to work with. Leila Shames Maude said she visited and called several schools that had used the firm and had received good feedback. She also mentioned that they were the firm that designed the new White Plains Elementary School on the Post Road. Bill Natbony liked the firm due to their experience working with the community and incorporating their feedback into the planning process.