The new Douglas & Gates Elementary School brings together two K-6 schools and the Huebner Early Childhood Program under one roof to create a model net zero ready—emissions and water—facility. Each elementary school is designed to have its own distinct character reflective of the focus of its programs and the Acton-Boxborough Regional District’s school choice philosophy.

The site’s natural landscape and adjacency to a protected wetland inspired the design of educational graphics, wayfinding, and signage. Thus, nature became the unifying theme for the three schools, which each occupy a different building level, and inspired the form and color that define graphics to support their unique programs.

The district’s focus on sustainability and a vision to use the building as a teaching tool made educational signage a significant component of our work. Multiple installations within the building and around the campus depict the project’s many earth-conscious features. All graphic elements are infused with educational purpose thanks to constant collaboration with teachers and review of the design through the lens of the curriculum.

Twenty-nine playful icons identify classrooms using topics the grade levels study during the year. These come together in a multistory tree mural within the central building commons, where the elements of earth, trees, and sky serve as the mural’s backdrop. The wayfinding icons come together within the tree’s branches. Students can find their classroom within the leaves and chart their progress through the building as they matriculate. The tree motif also unifies the different schools and reinforces ideas of collaboration and that every student is part of a larger whole. Another mural in the media center and library furthers the theme of nature while integrating the schools’ mascots.

Collaborations with landscape, solar, and geothermal specialists and with curriculum leaders informed the creation of educational, grade-appropriate installations to showcase the building’s sustainability features and acknowledge the community’s commitment to environmental responsibility. These installations occur in the landscape, throughout the first level shared Learning Commons and extend to a curved window wall that punctuates all three building levels to tell the complete story of the rainwater collection system.

Beginning on the third floor with rainwater collection, the water graphic flows down to show how it is stored and used within the building, and onto the ground level and the 20,000-gallon cistern installed under the playground. The intentional, multi-level placement of these graphics allows students to read relevant information while looking out to the location of the net zero features.

A ground floor digital dashboard provides real time information on building performance. A graphic campus map surrounds the screen to reinforce connections between the information displayed and the location of systems around the school.

The new combined Boardwalk Campus provides a high-performing, healthy, net zero ready education campus that uses the building and its environmentally protected site as teaching tools for all grade levels and the public. Robust graphics support the learning process and provide educational moments in fun and accessible ways. They also highlight the contributions of the site’s natural wetlands to the ecology of the community.

Project Details

LOCATION

ACTON, MA

CLIENT/OWNER

MSBA  /  ACTON-BOXBOROUGH REGIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT

SIZE

174,800 SF

OCCUPANCY

990 K-6; 130 PRESCHOOL STUDENTS

Awards

Rethinking the Future

Signages Design (Built), Winner, 2023

Built Environment Plus

Carbon & Energy, 2023

Eversource

New Construction: Design of the Year, Energy Excellence Awards, 2023

Learning by Design

Outstanding Project – Green/Sustainable Design, 2023

Quote

“[Arrowstreet’s] ability to apply architectural expertise to our vision of education has led us to a design of a building that will have positive impacts on student learning in our district for decades.”

– Marie Altieri, Deputy Superintendent, Acton-Boxborough Regional Schools

Photos by ROBERT BENSON PHOTOGRAPHY, ED WONSEK ARTWORKS, Robert Umenhofer

Architectural Plans / Process