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Don't Forget Your History!
SMA collaborated with Helena School District on designing a new Central School to replace the existing historic structure that was condemned for structural deficiencies. After successfully passing a bond for all K-8 facilities in Helena, SMA began work on the Ed Specs, programming, planning, and design of the new Central Elementary School.
The new building is similar to the historic building it replaced and has a prominent east entry with the main façade along Warren Avenue and the entry aligning 8th Avenue.
Historical elements from the former elementary school, the original Helena High School, and other buildings that occupied the site over the last century have been integrated into the new design. This includes the historic elementary school brass bell, granite wall caps and pediments, the former elementary school’s main arch, and miscellaneous items such as doors and the historic exterior stairs.
A Learning Environment for the Future
The new school is approximately 70,000 sf and serves kindergarten through 5th grade. The school is organized into communities of two to three classrooms surrounding a centralized open and shared space. The design focuses on flexibility to serve different needs within a 21st century learning environment.
Specialty learning spaces include a Life Skills classroom for students with special needs and a flexible Maker Space dubbed the “da Vinci Room.” These spaces allow inclusivity for all students and customization of learning strategies to serve all students.
The new school opened during the summer of 2019, welcoming students back into the neighborhood for the first time in 6 years.
Community - Centered
Central School has long served as a community center for Downtown Helena and the surrounding neighborhoods. The new school carries on this tradition by providing community amenities including a community commons, competition gymnasium, and stage for performances. These public spaces are organized around the main entry to create a welcoming community hub for student, parents, and residents.
SMA and Helena Public Schools paid careful attention to gather community input on the design of the new school. SMA facilitated a series of community meetings to hear concerns and suggestions for the new design and provide community updates on the project development. This community input was a critical factor in the success of the project.
Due to its location at the transition between Downtown Helena and the South-Central neighborhoods to the east and south, the Central School site has long been a social gathering spot. Careful attention was paid to the site design to incorporate outdoor gathering spots for students and parents before and after school. A new entry at the west side of the site along Cruse Avenue reconnects the school to Downtown Helena.
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