Blending the Old and New

Wellesley High School
Wellesley, Massachusetts

The Town of Wellesley sought to express its commitment to educational excellence through a new, community-focused high school. The history of Wellesley High School and its alumni played a large role in connecting the new facility to the high school’s rich legacy. Several elements of the original 1938 building were restored and utilized in the new structure, including an historic 18-foot tower cupola and its eagle weathervane, which serves as a sculpture in the main entrance.

Our approach focused on maintaining educational activity, while accommodating physical transformations within the perimeters of an existing building and an established residential neighborhood.

In addressing the Town of Wellesley’s concerns about the ability of its high school to meet the needs of a 21st century education, SMMA guided a rigorous collaborative process that included existing facility and site assessments; demographic analysis; pedagogical programming; concept designs for building renovations and additions; construction sequencing; and cost modeling. As an integrated, multidisciplinary design firm with a significant knowledge base in educational theory and practice, we were able to provide the necessary expertise in-house, and present the information in a cohesive way to facilitate the Town’s decision-making. 

Staying on Schedule

Timing was everything for this project. To complete the phased construction on a schedule that would minimize impacts to the students and staff, the complicated permitting process required a fast-track schedule. SMMA’s in-house team worked closely with both permitting authorities and the client to ensure that all approvals were received to allow for the start of construction. Our successful permitting effort led to the construction of the new high school six months ahead of schedule.

The Hub Is the Heart

A compact and efficient plan vertically links the programmed labs and classrooms through four core gathering spaces that organize movement through the building: the dining hall, library, theater and gymnasium. This rigorous geometric concept—responsive to the educational plan, while solving the need to build around the existing building mass—focuses on areas of informal student social encounters. It is introduced at the front door with the welcoming dining commons—a flexible pre- and post-function community space, serving auditorium/theater and athletic events—and extends to a series of “living room” hubs at each floor.

Common access to primary student gathering spaces for those with physical disabilities was of paramount importance in our design, and the hub concept allows for minimal travel time between classes.

Sustainable Design and Energy Savings

Wellesley High School was designed to use approximately 40% less energy than a code-compliant school building in Massachusetts. After tracking energy use for three years post-construction, our measured energy use intensity (EUI) ultimately surpassed our design goals. This success can be attributed to a high-performance, air-tight building enclosure; a geothermal system that provides heating and cooling for the administrative office; a 50 kilowatt (kW) photovoltaic system that produces enough electricity to operate 900 laptop computers; and the incorporation of Energy Star-rated equipment throughout the building.

The School as a Learning Tool

Exposed environments reinforce opportunities for differentiated learning styles (e.g., active, applied, experimental, hands-on etc.). SMMA’s design included a data-acquisition system in the lobby that allows students to assess and interpret real-time information regarding building energy usage and conservation, and a 10,000-square-foot green roof located adjacent to STEM labs, facilitating its incorporation into the curriculum. The green roof captures biophilic design’s intent to enhance skills essential to learning: comfort, creativity, and individual satisfaction. 

Permitting Success

The planning, permitting, and site design efforts were complex and detailed process, necessitating extensive permitting for the project’s wetlands, site plan approval, and designation as a Project of Significant Impact. Both the site plan approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Project of Significant Impact approval from the Planning Board were detailed filings that included extensive information regarding zoning; traffic, noise, and historic impacts; stormwater; utilities; town infrastructure; geotechnical considerations; building, pedestrian, and bicycle safety; and refuse disposal and recycling.  

Indoor environmental quality was of paramount importance in our design, and is enhanced by the following features:

  • Window glazing, exterior sunshades, and sloped classroom ceilings contribute to abundant daylight, exterior views, and reduced glare in classrooms and other spaces
  • Skylights provide filtered northern light to the art rooms and student commons
  • Daylight sensors adjust artificial lighting, responding to changes in natural light
  • Low-emitting volatile organic compound (VOC) materials support better air quality in the building
  • Operable windows and transoms increase natural ventilation in the classrooms
  • Displacement ventilation in the auditorium and library improves air quality

Water Conservation

A 100,000-gallon rainwater harvesting system enhances conservation by drastically reducing potable water consumption. Rainwater is used for all toilet-flushing and for irrigation purposes, resulting in annual savings of 1,500,000 gallons. The system also supports groundwater recharge by transferring overflow from the storage tank to the recharge system; water has an opportunity to infiltrate the ground before discharging excess overflow to the stormwater system.

The new school offers the opportunity to better integrate users of all abilities. Additionally, the building includes a discrete alternative high school that serves special-needs students and is a bridge program between high-risk and non-high-risk student learning.