To help combat space constraints of its facility in Princeton, N.J., Princeton Charter School recently opened a new 17,000-square-foot campus center, a multi-use facility that houses a sports complex, as well as music and art classrooms. Designed by Princeton-based architecture firm Farewell Mills Gatsch Architects, the building is part of a master plan to refine the 13-year-old campus while integrating sustainable practices and targeting LEED certification from the USGBC.
The award-winning school—it received national recognition as a Blue Ribbon School, a federal program that honors public and private schools of academic distinction—has been plagued with restricted space for classes and activities, which the campus center aims to fix. The lobby doubles as a gallery and display area for the arts and athletic activities that take place inside the building. Like the lobby, other main spaces also serve double functions. The gymnasium doubles as a theater and assembly space and the stage acts as a stand-alone performance space and a proscenium-framed stage for the larger theater.
Developing a sustainable site and architecture in the ecologically significant section of Princeton Ridge was vital for the school, which serves students from kindergarten through 8th grade. Because the area includes sub-volcanic rock, the design of the building, like the nearby rock formations, is broken down into separate volumes so the façade appears to be faceted or eroded. FMG wove new construction plans with existing buildings to create an ecologically sensitive campus. Architects focused on energy efficiency, natural light, renewable resources, and IAQ as key design aspects. Perforated wall and roof surfaces admit abundant daylight. The center’s southern orientation allows for a roof-mounted photovoltaic array to capture solar energy.
Each of the classrooms occupies a separate, self-contained volume that projects out from the building and onto the campus. The main circulation spine runs through the center of the building to create student gathering spaces and the lobby is naturally lit by roof monitors and clerestory windows.
A central complex of buildings and circulation routes are integrated into the entire site to provide access to the school’s academic and sports programs while creating a green landscape zone that follows the sloping land. Rainwater is channeled to a collection point that spills into a cistern and leads water through irrigation channels into a recharge system and vegetable garden. The recharge process is a key component in building and garden design; the school itself can serve as a teaching tool for natural processes, the daily changes in natural light, and the relationship of buildings to landscaping.
Other campus enhancements include an addition to an existing building to improve circulation and provide expanded program areas, enlarged athletic fields and defined play areas, and additional parking and site enhancements. Harrison-Hamnett of Pennington, N.J., was the structural engineer; AKF Group of Princeton, was the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineer; and Carroll Engineering of Hillsborough, N.J., served as the civil engineer.