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. Furthermore, its open-plan-classroom layout no longer met the high-performing district’s educational priorities. Expanding and renovating were 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. 


The new three-story building is star-shaped in plan, with five wings arranged around a central double-height entrance atrium. The profile of the building is defined by two wing-like angled roofs that respond to the Town's request that the building not be a “brick box.”

Inspired by the numerous stonewalls, the architecture has a continuous masonry 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 all traditional through-wall supporting steel to be eliminated, providing a highly efficient envelope with thickened insulation. The upper portion of the facade features a phenolic wood clapboard cladding system, which recalls the traditional New England-style architecture of the surrounding rural community.

  • Bancroft Elementary School Design by SMMA

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 1960s.

SMMA School Site Plan

A Star-Shaped Plan

The school's plan reaches out into the landscape, presenting narrow building ends with lower roofs at end-wall stairs and careful material compositions, proportions, and carved covered “porches” serving as outdoor classrooms. The design takes advantage of its new southern access—the main entrance now faces the sun, and multiple plan “rotations” are responsive to an interior educational organization of pods and externally respect view corridors to the site from abutters.

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 children easily walkable access to their new school.

SMMA Classroom Design for Bancroft Elementary

Moving Through Walls

The commons lends a sense of cohesiveness, identity, and safety to each 125-student grade—every classroom has oversized borrowed lights and widened doorways, creating a more porous and open feeling that harkens back to the best of the old school’s open-classroom planning. 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—having been designed by William D. Warner, the architect responsible for transforming downtown Providence, RI—and its design incorporated elements of Medieval and fantasy architecture.

The door from the original Bancroft School was saved and incorporated into the design and overall aesthetic within the new media center.

The new design gives the new media center pride of place, situating it directly above the main entrance—the tower serves as an external building entrance and allows internal entry to the media center.

SMMA Elementary School Classroom Design for Bancroft Elementary
SMMA School Design for Bancroft Elementary

Playing to Learn

Our Site Design Group focused on the confluence of education and play. Design interventions include 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. A solar panel is integrated within the multi-age playground equipment area. Extensive vegetable gardens allow students to grow food for their own cafeteria. Colorful sphere bollards were mathematically installed and arranged, inviting students to unlock the meaning in their precise patterns and formulas.

  • Site Design for Bancroft Elementary School
  • SMMA materials for Bancroft Elementary School
  • SMMA materials for Bancroft Elementary School

We 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/gymnasium takes advantage of the multi-height atrium and spatial interpenetration that the building’s massing allows. Because it’s used as a resource by the surrounding community for sports and entertainment events in the evenings and on weekends, the cafeteria/gymnasium can be accessed while the rest of the building is sealed off.

SMMA Elementary School Gym Design
  • SMMA Interactive Classroom Design