Charter Oak International Academy - West Hartford, Connecticut
Perkins Eastman Architects, DPC
Posted: April 25, 2022 | Projects
This two-story, 83,500-square-foot International Baccalaureate® (IB) Primary Years Programme (PYP) School serves 560 pre-K through fifth grade students. A pavilion in a park-like setting, situated among venerable oak trees, the school is named after the symbol of American independence – the famous Charter Oak – which is also commemorated on the Connecticut state quarter.
Photo Courtesy of Robert Benson Photography
To realize and achieve its dream of replacing the 85-year-old elementary school, the board of education worked over 10 years. Although the existing IB program was very successful and enjoyed enthusiastic support from the surrounding community, it unfortunately didn’t attract many West Hartford students beyond the surrounding neighborhood. The board realized that a new school with a unique design would be essential to support the curriculum and increase student participation from outside the immediate area.
Faced with a challenging task of creating an appropriate new design solution and gaining the community’s approval, the client and design team developed a series of options, and held workshops to engage the community in the process. By a broad consensus, the community selected the circular design to embody the IB’s innovative educational philosophy of global inclusion and cooperation.
The PYP Program includes a number of ceremonies and events centered on circular activities. It also encourages students to become curious, problem-solving, global citizens by creating connections across subjects and grades. The circular plan embodies this distinctive program by organizing the students’ grades and activities in four quadrants.
Classrooms are arrayed along the circle’s inner and outer circumference. Large common spaces – the cafeteria, media center, and gymnasium – create relief nodes within the academic spaces, and support after-hours community activities. Additionally, the curved wall surfaces integrate interior and exterior windows that provide an abundance of natural light and clear, unobstructed views throughout the school.
The auditorium is one of the unique features of the school because of its connection to the secure courtyard through a retractable glass wall. The proscenium opens onto the circular courtyard to provide a performance venue that faces either the interior seating or the courtyard amphitheater. The courtyard also supports outdoor learning and science exploration.
The use of brick on the facade and salvaged decorative wrought iron elements from the existing building honor the original 1929 school. Interior and exterior materials incorporate tree and leaf motifs, emphasizing the Charter Oak theme. Within the commons, media center, and auditorium, leaf-shaped ceiling clouds provide acoustical sound absorption and visual interest. Outside of the media center, an exterior shading screen also incorporates a tree and branch-like forms.
Registered with the U.S. Green Building Council to achieve LEED® Gold Certification, the project also complies with the State of Connecticut High Performance Building Standards. The school was designed without boilers; geothermal wells and water source heat pumps provide cooling and heating. A 100kW photovoltaic roof array contributes to operational efficiency.
The unique circular design generated high interest and competitive bidding among the local construction trades and equipment vendors. Consequently, the district enjoyed a refractive management and construction team, high quality craftsmanship, and ultimately saved over $3.8 million in costs.
Perkins Eastman Architects, DPC
422 Summer Street
Stamford, CT 06901
Structural & Mechanical Engineer, Plumbing, Fire Protection
BVH Integrated Services, P.C.
50 Griffin Road, S.
Bloomfield, CT 06002
Electrical Contractors, Inc.
3510 Main Street
Hartford, CT 06120
555 Long Wharf Drive, #14
New Haven, CT 06511
Location: West Hartford, Connecticut
Date Bid: Nov 2014
Construction Period: May 2015 to Nov 2016
Total Square Feet: 83,458
Site: 8.35 acres.
Number of Buildings: One; 40 classrooms, seating 22; auditorium, seating 426; gymnasium, seating 108.
Building Sizes: First floor, 60,183; second floor, 23,275; total, 83,458 square feet.
Building Height: First floor, 14'; second floor, 14'; total, 28'.
Basic Construction Type: New.
Foundation: Cast-in-place, reinforced concrete, slab-on-grade.
Exterior Walls: CMU, brick, curtain wall, metal panel.
Interior Walls: CMU, metal stud drywall.