Cunniff Elementary School is a 79,883sf new construction project serving 385 students in grades K-5. As the smallest of the three elementary schools in Watertown, every square inch of the existing 3.9-acre site was valuable. A single-story addition from decades before had compromised much of the land area, leaving only enough space on site for an undersized tee-ball field. The new project required strategic planning to maximize the site without requiring phased-occupied construction.
Ai3’s solution is a compact, three-story building footprint that hugs the property line, allowing it to be a much larger facility than the existing school, accommodating the appropriate educational program while simultaneously having a much smaller building footprint. The creative organization of the building form and mass reduces the overall building envelope. To achieve the goal of net-zero energy, photovoltaics occupy most of the roof while elegant photovoltaic canopies were designed over the parking lot. The exterior building envelope includes a combination of metal and recycled wood/plastic components to create a “green” exterior building shell, which can be easily repaired/replaced on a 40- to 50-year cycle and be fully recyclable in the future. The interior educational environment eliminates traditional corridors by creating a central zone of collaborative student study, work, and exhibit space; around which all classrooms can be organized. Specialized two-story volumes like the art room, learning commons, and media center are organized adjacent to open stairways and exterior walls to allow transparency and daylight to flow through all volumes simultaneously. Upon completion, the fully electric Cunniff Elementary School became the first net-zero energy school building in operation within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
“We worked with three other design firms prior to Ai3, and they were the secret to finally getting our town and our entire school system on track for $300 million in new construction and renovations. Their ability to take on complex challenges and create innovative and understandable solutions was invaluable.”