Eliot School Exploring Possible Expansion and Renovation; Community Input Wanted

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Diane Ivey, right, and Jessica Bucci "yarn-bombed" the sign at the Eliot School on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014.

Chris Helms

Diane Ivey, right, and Jessica Bucci "yarn-bombed" the sign at the Eliot School on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014.

I’m pleased to let you know that a panel of trustees has selected designLAB architects to create a feasibility study to explore the possibility of renovating and expanding the Eliot School.

Diane Ivey, right, and Jessica Bucci "yarn-bombed" the sign at the Eliot School on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014.

A panel of trustees chose designLAB from a pool of nearly 30 interested firms. Selection criteria included experience creating spaces for making and learning, additions to historic structures, innovation, thoughtful landscape design, environmental sustainability and an inclusive visioning process.

The firm will develop a range of scenarios for the Eliot Street site and possible alternative locations. Each option will include cost estimates and plans for phasing construction to accommodate ongoing programming. This is the first step in what will be an extensive process that we hope will lead to more adequate space for the school, including access for the disabled.

Neighbors are invited to attend an open house to kick off the design process and provide input and ideas Sunday, January 28 from 2 to 4 pm, at Farnsworth House (90 South Street, Jamaica Plain). Other workshops will include input from staff, faculty and supporters. Opportunities to engage with the process will continue throughout, and my door is always open for conversation. Just email me anorman@eliotschool.org or call me 617-524-3313 x13 if you'd like to set a time to talk.

Architect Ed Forte, the panel’s co-chair, praised designLAB’s “high level of sensitivity and curiosity about the Eliot School, and their approach to both working with a complex program and working collaboratively with our stakeholders.”

“designLAB will focus on letting the design process take us to places we might not have anticipated,” said the panel’s other co-chair Melony Swasey, a residential broker with Unlimited Sotheby’s International Real Estate. “They propose a strong community-oriented approach, and their landscape designer offers to work on seamless connections between indoors and outdoors, and between school and community use.”

designLAB Partners Sam Batchelor and Kelly Haigh said, “We are deeply committed to the Eliot’s mission of providing hands-on engagement in the arts.”

Programming has outgrown the art center’s brick schoolhouse. The Eliot School now reaches 3,500 people each year with programs that inspire lifelong learning in craftsmanship and creativity, including classes for 2,000 children in Boston’s public schools and community centers. Volume 12 years ago was 400 students overall.

Built in 1831 and embellished with a Victorian foyer and cupola in 1892, the schoolhouse contains four classrooms. An annex on nearby Amory Street contains administrative offices and a new classroom/teen programming space to open this spring. The school owns its Eliot Street site, valued as a neighborhood green space and gathering point.

designLAB architects, founded in 2005, has extensive experience working on arts and education buildings. Among related projects, they have designed the Delbridge Family Center for the Arts at Walnut Hill School, in Natick MA; the Emery Community Art Center at the University of Maine, in Farmington ME; the Seton Hill University Arts Center, in Greensburg PA; and the Hitchcock Center for the Environment, in Amherst, MA. Their current expansion of the Concord Museum, in Concord MA, will include an education wing with learning spaces and a community lyceum. The 20-member firm has won both regional and national awards, including five American Institute of Architects National Honor Awards and four Chicago Athenaeum Architectural Awards.

Sam Batchelor, Principal in charge of this project, brings extensive experience as a designer, educator, and leader. Outside of designLAB, he teaches the Community/Build Studio at Mass College of Art & Design, co-founded and taught the furniture studio at Boston Architectural College for six years, and serves as board president for the Community Design Resource Center, a non-profit organization that provides pro bono planning and design services to underserved communities in the Boston area.

Project Manager Kelly Haigh is a national leader in interior architecture, having served as Co-Chair for the National AIA Interior Architecture Knowledge Committee. She co-taught the Boston Architectural College furniture studio with Sam Batchelor for two years and continued teaching it for an additional four years.

designLAB will work in partnership with Lisa Giersbach and Gigi Saltonstall of G2 Collaborative, a landscape design firm.

Abigail Norman is the Director of the Eliot School of Fine & Applied Arts