A New Chapter in RI School Design

Archie R. Cole Middle School
East Greenwich, Rhode Island

The Archie R. Cole Middle School, a 110,000-square-foot facility accommodating 573 students in grades 6-8, represents the latest thinking in producing learning spaces for students, teachers, and administrators.

Our design goal for the school was simple: To ensure that learning takes place in an intimate environment in which each child shares a supportive bond with peers and a family of teachers. 

SMMA’s inclusive approach to programming and designing the school brought together faculty and staff, town council, building and school committees, and the neighborhood association. To avoid the appearance of the school being out of scale for the neighborhood, SMMA’s design located the highest point of the structure central to the site, then “stepped” the building down to the residential street. We also created a “civic core” by locating a multipurpose space and gymnasium around the cafeteria that can be used for community activities. The three-story academic west wing is located at the quiet center of the site, while the more civic functions step down to the residential height of the surrounding neighborhood.

Considering the Site

The site design supports the new facility with segregated bus and parent drop-off, ample parking for faculty and visitors, and other facilities necessary to create a functional school site. Additionally, the recreational facilities that had been removed to allow for new school’s construction were recreated. Adjacent wetland resource areas required that the site receive approval from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) prior to the start of construction. SMMA led the environmental permitting efforts with the agency to ensure a successful project.

Learning Environment

The academic west wing of the school is divided into six social units of less than 100 students each, with one grade on each of the three floors. These social units, or team teaching areas, comprise four core classrooms, a special education space, and a teacher planning area. Student-centric, project-based learning takes place in a shared space between the science rooms. Splaying the corridor walls accommodates each team with a focus on a wide “projection wall.”

The dining commons serves as the hub of the specialty classrooms, doubling as an informal gathering and learning space. During after-school hours, it becomes a pre- and post-function space for the community, gym, and stage.

Optimizing Performance

The plan of the school is a long, narrow configuration organized along an east/west axis that optimizes solar orientation and allows rainwater to be harvested from its sloping roofs. Other sustainable features include high-performance glazing that optimizes daylight harvesting, skylights and clerestory windows with daylight sensors, sunshades on the southern façade that control sunlight, high-performance lighting with energy performance 30% above code, demand control ventilation that lessens the need for air conditioning, and a 50-kilowatt photovoltaic system. 

The effects of the physical environment on the performance of the school’s daylight- and rainwater-harvesting systems and photovoltaic arrays are incorporated into the curriculum via a data-acquisition system that is networked to the classrooms and public spaces. Each teacher is tasked with bringing this data into their lesson plans each year.

Let the Light In

Natural light and views are also harvested for their positive effects on student attentiveness and focus. Virtually every room and circulation space has access to natural light, be it direct or borrowed. Classroom ceilings are sloped to “bounce” light deep into the rooms, and lights are programmed to dim when natural light is sufficient. Learning and information is made ubiquitous through a wired and wireless network. Every student in any space can learn of the environmental performance of their school, as well access online knowledge resources, by using their tablet computers and the school’s monitors.

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