Architects Discuss School Gardens, Playgrounds & Outside Learning Spaces

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A drawing showing the outdoor learning space outside Lowell Elementary School.

The amenities surrounding Watertown’s three elementary schools after they are rebuilt or renovated are taking shape, but the School Building Committee and others have some concerns about handicap accessibility, deliveries and more.

The designers of the town’s three elementary schools, Ai3 Architects, showed the School Building Committee details of the plans for the playgrounds, outdoor learning spaces, school gardens and even delivery areas at the Aug. 21 meeting.

Gardens & Outdoor Learning Areas

The designers are working with teachers, staff and the district’s School Garden Coordinator, Judy Fallows, to help design the school gardens. Each of the elementary schools will have learning gardens where students can plant crops and learn about their life cycle.

Watertown is ahead of other communities with this program, said Kris Bradner of Traverse Landscape Architects, the group working with designers on landscaping and other amenities outside the school.

“Here is an inspiration for other communities,” Bradner said. “You should be proud of that.”

Designers showed where the gardens would be located at the schools. At the Lowell School, which will be renovated with some additions, the garden will go outside what was the entrance on when the school was first built in the early 20th Century. The entryway is now on the opposite side of the building, off Lowell Aveunue.

The gardens will be part of an outside learning area which will be down a short flight of stairs and will include not just the garden, but a trellis and an area to gather outside, said Scott Dunlap, project architect with Ai3. The stairs can also be a seating area.

At left, an Illustration of the ramp leading down to Lowell School’s outdoor learning space to be used by those who cannot use the stairs. On the right, a view from inside the outdoor learning space.

The stairway may make the are inaccessible to the disabled, or may make them feel left out, worried Town Councilor Lisa Feltner, who is not on the committee, but who attended the meeting.

“It’s a wonderful plaza, and I see kids jumping and playing games on the stairs, but looking at this it is wonderful for the able body but children people with disabilities will be left out,” Feltner said.

Those in wheelchairs or with other challenges will be able to get to the outdoor learning area from a ramp off of an entrance a short distance from the doors leading to the stairs, Dunlap said. He noted that all students, disabled or not, will be coming out the entrance with the ramp.

Playgrounds

School Committee member Lindsay Mosca said she would like to see some more variety at the school playgrounds.

“Between the three schools now, the Watertown playgrounds, every single one, are made by the same company and have almost the same equipment,” Mosca said. “Maybe there are different colors — but it is boring.”

Assistant Town Manager Steve Magoon said he would like to see play equipment made with more natural materials.

Delivery Areas

A rendering of the delivery area at Hosmer School. The curve in the driveway means some larger trucks may have difficulty backing into the deliver area.

Another issue at the schools is how deliveries are made. Currently, the schools do not have specially built delivery areas, or they are lacking. Large pallets full of items are often left on a sidewalk, or outside the deliver door.

To avoid that at the new schools, delivery spaces are being included in the designs. In the case of Hosmer School, however, the access may be challenging.

Trucks will have to come down the access road between the Brigham House and the Hosmer playing field, then make a 90 degree turn and back into the delivery area.

Dunlap said box trucks will be able to make the maneuver, but it could be tough for an 18-wheeler.

“Our recommendation is not to pave an area for trucks to drive in, turn around and back in. It does impact a lot of the site,” said Dunlap, who added that the turnaround would eat into the grass field. “If you have an 18-wheeler they might be able to do what they do now: stop on Concord Road and wheel what they have to (into the school).”

At Cunniff, the loading area will be in the back corner of the school, just off the parking lot. There will be a turnaround circle at that end of the parking lot, but it will not be raised much, if at all, said Andrew Chagnon, a civil engineer with Vertex Cos. It will be marked with a different color or texture.

Lowell School will have a new delivery area near the small addition along Lowell Avenue.

The School Building Committee will meet again on Sept. 4 in Town Hall.

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