Cohesiveness, Identity, and Safety

Bancroft Elementary School
Andover, Massachusetts

Andover’s old Bancroft Elementary School was failing, both operationally and pedagogically. The former school was costing the Town more than $1 million per year to operate and maintain. After fifty years, the two-story wood and steel structure had become a safety risk. Furthermore, its open-plan classroom layout no longer met the high-performing district’s educational priorities. As well, expanding and renovating the school proved infeasible to meet the demands of a growing student population, and would trigger a redistricting requirement that resulted in the closure of another local school. Adding to a long list of challenges, the existing school needed to remain occupied throughout construction.

SMMA addressed these myriad issues with a design that accommodates the larger student population, while minimizing the building footprint’s encroachment onto environmentally sensitive portions of the property.


Inspired by local stonewalls, the architecture has a continuous plinth of dark, heavy, textured brick that terminates at the first-floor window heads. This subtle play of proportions ensures that the building is set down into the landscape and allows for the elimination of the traditional through-wall supporting steel, providing a highly-efficient envelope with thickened insulation. The upper-portion of the façade features a phenolic wood clapboard cladding system, that recalls the traditional New England-style architecture of the surrounding community.

  • Wide angle shot of school playground at Bancroft Elementary School in Andover, MA

Nestled into one of Andover’s more rural and pastoral neighborhoods, the new Bancroft School replaces a once-beloved, but structurally failing, open-plan school from the 1960's.

Site Plan for Bancroft Elementary School in Andover MA designed by SMMA

A Star-Shaped Plan

The new three-story building is star-shaped in plan, with five wings organized around a central double-height atrium. The plan extends out into the landscape, presenting narrow building ends with lower roofs at the outer edges. As well, the design team worked to carefully compose materials and proportions. In addition, the building incorporates canopy and roof edges that extend out to greet students and provide shelter, and carved covered “porches” that can serve as outdoor classrooms.

The design takes advantage of its new southern access; the main entrance now faces the sun, filling the atrium with natural light which is effused into other parts of the building, including classrooms and common areas.

Addressing the concerns of the school’s residential neighbors, SMMA incorporated two points of vehicular entry into the site design, as to avoid the bottlenecking of a single-drop-off point. Walkways were reconnected through the wooded areas and into the neighborhoods, allowing easy and safe, access to their new school.

Slide door entrance to school classroom at Bancroft Elementary School

Moving Through Walls

The commons provides a sense of cohesiveness, identity, and safety to each grade. Every classroom has oversized borrowed lights and widened doorways, creating a sense of openness. The fifth-grade wing extends this concept, with fully glazed operable walls to allow for even greater collaboration and grade-wide team-teaching, to help transition students from an elementary to middle school model.

Incorporating Old with New

In its time, the first iteration of Bancroft Elementary School won national awards, designed by William D. Warner, the architect responsible for transforming downtown Providence, Rhode Island. Its design incorporated elements of medieval and fantasy architecture.

For example, the original building included castle-style doors. The entryway doors were saved and incorporated into the design of the new media center. The design gives the media center pride of place, situating it directly above the main entrance.

Bancroft Elementary School commons with large wooden door
Bancroft Elementary School garden allotment with solar panel

Playing to Learn

Our Site Design Group focused on the confluence of education and play. Design interventions included the development of numerous fields and courts, a hidden deck nestled in the woods, and bronze animal and insect castings located throughout the site, waiting to be discovered.

All the elements within the site were designed not only to fulfill programmatic requirements, but to add to the sense of play and learning. There is a solar panel integrated into the multi-age playground area. As well, extensive vegetable gardens allow students to grow food for their own cafeteria. The team also included colorful sphere bollards that were mathematically installed and arranged, inviting students to unlock the meaning in their precise patterns and formulas.

  • Multi colored balls artwork outside the entrance to Bancroft Elementary School
  • Close up of wooden panel decoration in Bancroft Elementary School entrance lobby
  • Small turtle sculpture on block at Bancroft Elementary School in Andover, MA

Our team also planted native trees, shrubs, and meadows to supplement the existing vegetation and encourage wildlife corridors, birds, and pollinators, adding to the outdoor classroom experience of observation and science projects.

A Resource for the Entire Community

The cafeteria and gymnasium take advantage of the multi-height atrium and spatial interpenetration that the building’s massing allows. Given that the space is used as a resource by the surrounding community for sports and entertainment events in the evenings and on weekends, the design permits access to both spaces can be accessed while the rest of the building is sealed off.