At St. Philip's Academy, the walls not only talk, they teach.
So does the garden up on the roof – and it will nourish the city and the students.
The color-coded floors and coordinating wall graphics, exposed ductwork, standpipes and brickwork are the functional and design elements of the school’s new home at 342 Central Avenue in Newark, New Jersey. All have been devised to serve as teaching tools.
The independent K-8 school that prides itself on instilling a love of learning, intellectual curiosity and sense of duty to the community in its students moved into its new home at the start of the winter semester in January, according to a news release from the school.
School officials, trustees, staff and students welcomed visitors, including state and local officials, to the school on February 14 for a grand opening and guided tour of the structure.
"When we decided to take the next step, to create a 21st century school, I wanted the building itself to be a teaching tool, a living museum where the children could explore and learn beyond the traditional classroom," said Miguel Brito, Head of School for St. Philip's.
St. Philip's Academy, where all children are welcome regardless of their family's ability to pay tuition, was founded in 1988 by the dean of Trinity and St. Philip's Cathedral in the Diocese of Newark. It receives no direct financial support from the diocese.
Part of a larger factory complex constructed in 1920, which was used at one point as a chocolate factory, the building was abandoned in the 1970's. The school purchased it in 2004. The structure was gutted to its timber and masonry framework and refitted with new electrical and plumbing systems, new heating and cooling systems, new ductwork and drywalls. A 15,000 square-foot gymnasium was erected behind the 55,000 square-foot building.
The renovation and adaptive reuse of the old building was undertaken by the Morristown architectural office of Gensler. It is expected to qualify for a 2.1 Silver Certification as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
St. Philip's will be Newark's first LEED-certified structure and one of only two certified independent schools in New Jersey.
"This building represents one of the largest private investments in inner-city elementary education in the history of the United States," Brito said, explaining the cost of the school was roughly $22 million. "In developing this new complex we have created something special for our children, their families and the community."
"We're all so excited about moving in," said Solana Davis, 13, of East Orange, president of the St. Philip's Academy student council. "We all love the bright colors, we love how big it is and we love the rooftop garden."
"As a 21st century school, we must take on broader responsibilities and acknowledge the concept that strong schools can be a primary agent in improving the quality of life and safety of a neighborhood," Brito said. "Lower-income and minority children disproportionately suffer from poor indoor air quality and related problems in conventional schools. A LEED school building creates an opportunity to improve the health and educational settings for all students, regardless of income or background."
David C. Farrand, president of the St. Philip's Academy board of trustees, believes the building will enhance the school's curriculum. He noted that the visible mechanical equipment for the heating and cooling systems allows students to see how they work. Exposed beams, trusses and columns provide tangible demonstrations of the principles of geometry, physics, and design.
St. Philip's has already changed its new neighborhood. One of the features added to the building is a glass curtain wall on the west end that is illuminated along the edges throughout the day and night. This "Lantern" is symbolic of the light of optimism and opportunity St. Philip's shines into the community.
Gensler preserved many of the building's features, from the warm red-brick façade and terra cotta frieze to the massive interior support timbers.
The gym's rooftop garden, dubbed the "Outdoor Environmental Center," reduces storm water run-off. Trees planted on the roof help shade the school and reduce solar gain inside the building.
The fresh herbs and vegetables grown by students in the garden will be prepared for breakfast and lunch in the cafeteria. Food waste will be converted into compost to nourish the soil of the rooftop garden – demonstrating sustainability and underlining the school's new health and wellness campaign.
"When we realized that childhood obesity, high blood pressure and adult- onset diabetes plague our community, we decided it was time for the school to take a stand," Brito said. "To educate our children properly, we must deliver resources to the children, their families, the community and the city."