Holistic Design Reflected In New Elementary School

For this New Jersey school, designer LAN Associates focused on light, flexibility, choice, connection, complexity, and color to enhance the student experience.

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The new James Monroe Elementary School in Edison Township, NJ

At the start of 2017, LAN Associates of Midland Park, NJ, completed construction and design for students in Edison Township, NJ to return “home” for their first day of school in the new James Monroe Elementary School. The original school was burned to the ground three years ago after a devastating fire. Approximately 67,000 square feet, the the two-story education facility was designed using principles of a holistic design approach, where light, flexibility, choice, connection, complexity, and color are direct correlations to enhance and progress student academic achievement up to 25% during the course of an academic year.

Daylighting was considered a very important design factor for the school, directly impacting attendance, academic, and performance productivity. “We began the building design by performing light studies on all orientations of the building,” says vice president and project architect Kim Vierheilig of LAN Associates. “Maximizing natural light in every learning space was a priority and just as important was providing controls within classroom so educators could easily transform their learning environment, depending on the technology they use during instruction or breakout activities.”

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New art classroom at James Monroe Elementary School

The new school is equipped with the latest technology and adaptable learning environments to stimulate young creative minds. “We wanted to create an environment that allows choice and flexibility while being a destination for creativity and expression,” says President Ken Karle of LAN Associates. Flexible furniture options allow students to collaborate in small and large groups or individually within the classroom. Similarly, the media center was designed to accommodate a variety of learning settings. From traditional bookcases and a storytelling corner, to lounge spaces, flexible large group/small group study, and project lab spaces.

For corridors, LAN’s design involved creating distinct neighborhoods (grades) of homes (classrooms). For Monroe, age appropriate colors were chosen to cluster grades around. The bold colors are also a means of wayfinding throughout the facility, with the connection between classrooms and corridors as important as the classroom itself.

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New gymnasium at James Monroe Elementary School

LAN notes that color a profound impact on how people perceive the spaces they occupy as well as a proven factor to boost learning. In a classroom, a calmer, cooler color scheme is most appropriate for an effective learning environment. The front instruction wall was painted a different color than the remainder of the walls to provide a contrast for students. Brighter colors were used for areas outside of the classroom, like corridors, specialty spaces, or cafeterias as these areas function as spaces for social engagement. A careful selection was made for the colors incorporated into classrooms, corridors, and furniture options.

The school is equipped with the latest fire safety and security systems, LED lighting, and emergency power systems with a generator that enables the new gym and cafeteria to serve as a community evacuation center. Teachers, parents and students alike were all eager for James Monroe to reopen. “What we realized when we started moving back here this last month and a half is there really is no place like home,” said one James Monroe faculty member at the school’s first day of class in early 2017.