Investing in Next Generation Learning

North Middlesex Regional High School
Townsend, MA

The North Middlesex Regional School District, made up of three member towns including Ashby, Pepperell, and Townsend, MA, sought to transform its educational vision in support of 21st century teaching and learning techniques. However, the District’s existing high school building with its sprawling layout, dated and failing infrastructure, and high maintenance and operational costs fell short of their mission.

Originally constructed in 1959, the original North Middlesex Regional High School (NMRHS) building was intended to accommodate a far higher enrollment than the 835 students it currently serves. Additionally, it was incapable of supporting next-generation education: the school was littered with isolated wings and duplicative unused spaces.

The newly constructed NMRHS reduces the school’s overall size from 197,000 to 181,530 sf, while strategically locating its classrooms and learning environments. Its design reflects collaboration and communication between students and teachers across academic disciplines, a significant departure from the double-loaded corridor environments that characterized the previous facility. Academic environments are arranged in interdisciplinary pods. Each pod is comprised of flexible teaching space, a large group instruction room, and transformational Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Math (STEAM) spaces, all generously endowed with transparency and ample natural and borrowed light.


SMMA’s planning team met with all stakeholders, from teachers and students to secretaries and custodians. Their vision informed the new layout and its focus on community-building and interdisciplinary knowledge sharing:

  • On the first floor, three core gathering spaces – the gymnasium, auditorium, and dining commons – are connected by a learning forum, the central café, and an open central stair. The dining commons is inherently flexible: its smaller café and quiet dining area can be used as an additional large group instruction space, an intimate dining area for functions, or as a refuge for students more intimidated by larger spaces and crowds.
  • On the second floor, a glassy open media center overlooks the commons. Science labs are centered between two academic pods, rather than isolated or associated solely with traditional STEM programs, allowing for ethics and environmental advocacy values to inform and connect with the broader humanities.
Floor plan drawings for North Middlesex Regional High School
  • Gymnasium at North Middlesex Regional High School in Townsend
  • Crowded dining commons in North Middlesex Regional High School in Massachusetts
  • Piano on stage at North Middlesex Regional High School auditorium

Project-Based Learning

The classrooms and learning environments in the new building are arranged into two flexible pods that create subject-focused neighborhoods, helping to foster program integration and interdisciplinary learning opportunities. The Humanities Pod houses the fine and performing arts into a neighborhood, while the STEM Pod includes the technical arts: a TV Studio, robotics lab, and physics and chemistry labs expand on traditional STEM programming. Classrooms make use of borrowed lights to maximize daylight and openness. Specialty rooms have oversized doors and two-sided display cases, both sharing views into the rooms while showing off student work.

Project-Based learning environments in the new North Middlesex Regional High School

Flexible learning opportunities include:

  • A state-of-the-art makerspace: serves the Math, Business, and Science programs as well as Robotics and Fabrication. Its TV Studio adds a new school program for internal and external broadcasting.
  • Corridors as learning commons: daylit, exuberant, and active learning environments that support student-centered learning and increase visibility on each floor.
  • An auditorium: the new 750-seat venue, complete with a fully fly-rigged stage, serves popular and award-winning music and theater programs as well as the surrounding district communities.


  • Rural roots: North Middlesex Regional School, rooted in an active farming community and the natural environment, sought to bring the outdoors in and to extend the learning environment outward. As a result, there are five distinct outdoor learning classrooms strategically located around the school.
  • Charitable hearts: the school has an active service club with a vegetable garden, aquatic hydroponic pool, and greenhouse. Students donate over 10,000lbs of food to local shelters every year.
  • Large instruction area for humanities at North Middlesex Regional High School
  • Outdoor classroom area in North Middlesex Regional High School in Townsend, MA
  • Science lab classroom at North Middlesex Regional High School
  • Energy and sustainability information for North Middlesex Regional High School

North Middlesex Regional High School was awarded LEEDv3 2009 Gold Certification (63 points), achieved in part through the designers’ expertise in sustainable design, but also through a collaborative approach with the towns’ constituents. The result is a school that meets the District’s three sustainability goals: To achieve a high standard of energy efficiency, foster environmental literacy, and provide students with a healthy 21st century educational facility in all aspects.

Several key design elements were used to maximize energy efficiency. These include a well-insulated building enclosure, efficient HVAC equipment, advanced HVAC controls such as CO2 sensors, and control-optimized LED lighting. On the roof, a 400 kW Solar Photovoltaic system produces enough energy to operate up to 9,000 laptop computers. NMRHS’s predicted energy use is equivalent to 30% operational carbon reduction over the MA Energy Code.

Exterior view of the new North Middlesex Regional High School in Massachusetts

Expression Through Materiality

It was critical that the new school physically express the goals and aspirations of the three communities with high-quality materials such as granite and porcelain wall panels, illustrating the town’s long-term investment. At the same time, a continuous plinth of darker, textured brick and a granite water table inspired by local stone walls helps situate the building in its rural landscape.

"The first time we let students into the new high school was to plant flowers for opening day. One of my favorite remarks was by a student who said, ‘I knew we were getting a new building, but I didn’t think we were getting this.’ It was so inviting to students and now there are students staying after school in the commons area to do their homework. It’s a beautiful building."

Joan Landers

Former Superintendent