The Compass School in Westminster. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
The Compass School in Westminster. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Tuesday January 15, 2013

WESTMINSTER -- It was a project for educational purposes ... in more ways than one.

Compass School is planning major campus improvements to be completed in the summer of 2013 and the Westminster institution enlisted the help of some college students by way of the Communicorps program, created by Professor Peter Temple at Keene State College in New Hampshire.

Temple started the architecture program in 1991 to connect his students with real-world projects as much as possible. Compass School opened 14 years ago as an independent means of accessible education regardless of a child's academic background or financial situation, and its students collaborated with a team of KSC sophomores to work on designing an addition.

The $700,000 project includes a new arts lab and science lab, classroom and study spaces, new offices, solar array and a sports field.

Bids will go out to construction companies in late February or early March. Work is slated to begin in June and be ready for the start of school in September.

Compass School Director Dr. Rick Gordon said the school has always operated on a limited budget and has provided an education to area students since it purchased the building at 7892 U.S. Route 5 -- which Betsy Jaffe, the director of development and admissions, said used to host a high-stakes bingo parlor owned by the Elks.

Gordon said the school's art program is well-respected, but space is an issue.


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He said the most important aspect is having a building that has state-of-the-art classrooms, presents a pleasant outside appearance and maintains a commitment to environmental sustainability.

The director -- essentially the school's principal -- told the Reformer several students were involved in the design process.

Lila Shaw, 13, is an eighth-grader at Compass and took part in the project, which she feels will help with her aspirations to be an interior designer, architect or artist. She said she and other students brainstormed ideas of where the addition should go and made some sketches of how it would best work. Students had to consider what the interior would look like and how much the whole project would cost.

"It was really fun. I chose to do this project because I really love art and I am excited to have a new art space," she said.

Temple said nine of his sophomores (three groups of three) chose to partake in the Compass School project through Communicorps. He said they started the work -- which he oversaw -- in January 2012 and concluded that May.

"I think it went very well. They did a good job of coming up with a lot of alternatives. They learned a lot," he told the Reformer. "They enjoyed it. They filled evaluations and they thought it was a great experience."

Temple said his students delivered a presentation to Gordon and Jaffe every two weeks and were open to feedback. He said the sophomores learned how the real world of architecture operates, as they had to come up with alternatives to meet project restrictions and the clients' desires.

He said his students were excited about the idea of an art lab but after realizing how their initial designs would affect the structure's interior and exterior they had to address all the other needs of the building.

The KSC students also kept in mind what they wanted the school to look like to people driving down Route 5. Temple said motorists will soon seen the school's athletic field instead of the rough, gravel parking area that sits there now. The two parking areas will also be consolidated into one.

Gordon said the athletic field with likely be a 100-by-60-foot one for seven-on-seven soccer matches and games of ultimate frisbee.

The addition will also feature a new science lab, which excites Compass assistant director and science teacher Eric Rhomberg, who said it will allow for a more hands-on experience.

The lab we have now is OK, but we will have designed from scratch a fully-equipped, modern science lab," he said, adding that there will be more room to store chemicals. "We'll work with what we are not equipped to work with now."

He said he is a big advocate for "doing real science, as opposed to talking about science" and believes the new lab will enable his students to "shift into a higher gear."

Jaffe said this is a very exciting time for Compass, which is benefiting from donations from The Clowes Fund and the Thompson Trust and loans from the Vermont Department of Agriculture. She said said each Compass student is charged the average per-capita expenditure of all Vermont public schools.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.