WEST BRATTLEBORO — Students and teachers at Academy School were offered hardhats to wear as they checked out the concrete floor being poured for what will be an extension of the school and a lesson in sustainability.
All Seasons Construction Corp. is the general contractor for the approximately $2 million project to add about 2,000 square feet to the school, replace windows and renovate a resource room. Carroll Concrete supplied the concrete and Valley Concrete placed it Wednesday, when temperatures were a little warmer than in recent days.
“They’re trying to get that in today,” Diane Abate, an architect for Stevens & Associates, said in an interview with sixth-grade reporters from the school. “This addition has been long overdue. It’s really going to facilitate the school’s ability to have more break-out rooms for teaching students in small groups. I would say that’s the primary of focus of this, to be able to have really good teaching spaces.”
A big piece of the project is aimed at improving the delivery of special education at the elementary school.
The goal is to have construction completed before the beginning of the next school year. Abate said the schedule will depend on the weather and material availability.
Navad Malin, a consultant with Building Green, collaborated with Stevens & Associates to find ways to reduce environmental impacts and improve building performance. These are important factors for the Windham Southeast School District Board.
Malin said less cement was used in the concrete mix by substituting parts with less carbon intensive substances, such as blast furnace slag, a byproduct of steel production.
“Under the concrete is a really exciting product because it’s rarely been used in Vermont before but it’s an aggregate,” Malin said. “It’s like if you imagine plastic foam, but instead it’s made out of recycled glass and they foam that in a kiln. And the beauty of that is it works like crushed stone to distribute the load but it also insulates so you don’t need to add foam insulation.”
Malin said by staying away from foam insulation, “you avoid the petrochemical-based products, you avoid the toxic flame retardants that they put in that, and you avoid the greenhouse gases that go into making foam insulation. So it’s a nice thing to not have to use if you don’t have to.”
Foam insulation will be used a little bit on the outside walls, Malin said, “but we’ve avoided them pretty much everywhere else. And within the foam insulation, there’s different choices and we’ve chosen the best one that’s currently available.”
Ben Harwood, structural engineer at Stevens & Associates, said he’s excited to use the foam glass aggregate in the future rather than putting big sheets of Styrofoam underneath slabs.
“It seems to be a promising product,” Harwood said. “It’s kind of nice they can send it in a dump truck and spread it out like rocks. It kind of looks like lava rocks. It feels kind of like pumice stone.”
The addition will be wood framed, which Harwood said is very common in residential buildings but not so much in commercial buildings or schools.
“I guess it’s new and it’s old because that’s how they used to do it a really long time ago,” Harwood said. “It’s less common in commercial construction in general or institutionally. You do typically see masonry. This addition is going to have a masonry siding, essentially one brick wide.”
Harwood said the wood should have a long life span and can be locally or nationally produced.
Malin said standard high-quality energy-efficient windows will be installed for the new building. Another part of the project involves replacing windows in existing classrooms.
The windows are “designed to help let the daylight penetrate further into the classrooms so you don’t need to use the electric as much and the students get the benefit of the natural daylight,” Malin said.
Students asked questions of the project team. Orly Hasbani, who provides educational support at the school, filmed the interviews.
School Principal Kelly Dias said when All School Sing couldn’t be held during the COVID-19 pandemic, music teacher Bri Davenport created a weekly segment called Nebula News to ensure “everyone was up on the happenings of our school.” Davenport is on maternal leave so other teachers are filling in to produce the segments.
“It’s become very special to our students,” Dias said. “They love to watch the news and see if they’re on it.”
Dias said the construction project has become part of the landscape at the school but students don’t have a clear picture of what the addition will look like when completed.
“So I think once they see, OK, there’s a floor being poured, now it’s starting to become a building where we’re going to visit to do our learning. It’s a very exciting thing,” said Dias, who had been hearing about the proposed project since she was a teacher at the school and assistant principal. “To see it come to fruition is a huge accomplishment for everybody.”
Students wondered if outdoor basketball playing would be affected since the addition is taking up space previously used for a court. Dias said plans call for the court to be pushed out further into the yard and she expects wall ball games to continue, as well.