Crozet Elementary Expansion Takes Shape

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A Crozet Elementary expansion project schematic design showing the new Learning Wing as viewed from the southeast, near the creek. Rendering courtesy VMDO.

A recent update presented to the School Board in late May by the Crozet Elementary addition project’s architects gave a glimpse into what’s in store for students and teachers at the 30-year-old school. Ken Thacker, Crozet resident and principal architect for VMDO, highlighted elements of the $20 million project that has been in the design phase since March. “We’re about a quarter of the way through the design process and have been meeting with stakeholders for input,” said Thacker. “Our firm designed the original school in the late 1980s as well as the six-classroom addition in 1995.”

Thacker noted that while most new elementary schools all look the same, Crozet Elementary School (CES) was designed for its place, with its iconic circular library and curved exterior complementing its pastoral and mountain views, wooded creek, and sweeping campus. “I think that the original design team was inspired both by authentic and modest local buildings as well as by Jeffersonian ideals of public education,” he said. 

Ken Thacker. Photo courtesy VMDO.

“One of our immediate impressions of the site—and one of the things heard most often from parents and school staff—was a desire to preserve the beautiful views from the building,” said Thacker. The planned classroom addition, or “Learning Wing,” will be built directly to the south of the existing buildings to preserve both the existing architectural views and the play areas and athletic fields. 

Noting the varying topography on site, Thacker explained that the architects used the sloping land to their advantage. “The new Learning Wing is three stories tall, and you might think such an addition would overwhelm the existing school,” he said, “but because of the way it will be built into the hillside it will be no taller than existing buildings.”

The addition will add 17 classrooms and expand CES capacity from its current 330 to 680 students, which is about the same as Baker-Butler Elementary and a little smaller than Cale Elementary. The plan is for Brownsville Elementary to redistrict some of its overcrowded student population to CES when the expansion is complete.

Key features of the expansion include the new classroom building where third, fourth, and fifth grade students will be housed, an addition to the cafeteria and kitchen, a “movement addition” which opens into the existing gym to accommodate an all-school gathering, a more expansive entry plaza and administrative area, and a new bus loop separate from car traffic on the north side of the school. 

To create clearer paths and walkways within the school, designers have added a protected, landscaped courtyard that will serve as a conduit for students, and the connecting space between the old and new buildings will be accented with bioretention planters, an outdoor stage, story stairs and a seat wall. 

“The placement of the addition within view of the creek is intentional,” said Thacker. “Crozet Elementary is, after all, a Green Ribbon school, one of the things Ms. Crummie reminded our design team when we first met.”

Many subtle details in the design add elements of openness and enhanced safety. “The fifth grade classrooms will open directly to the outdoors, and the cloakroom walls in existing classrooms will be removed for more space,” said Thacker. “There will be a new sidewalk for walk-to-school kids which will eliminate any conflict between walkers and cars, and the flagpole will be moved to the school side of the parking lot so students are not crossing traffic each day to raise the flag.”

A Crozet Elementary expansion project concept design as proposed by VMDO architects. New 17-classroom Learning Wing on south side and separate bus loop to north. Courtesy VMDO.

A community meeting with adjacent property owners was held in late June to share project information and solicit feedback. Several neighbors brought up concerns about construction near the Parrot’s Branch stream buffer, while others sought relief from current and future school lighting at night. Joe Letteri, director of building services for the school division, said he would look into the latter problem right away, and Thacker addressed the former. 

“The new classroom addition will be well offset from the Parrot’s Branch creek and will honor the county’s 100-foot wide WPO (Water Protection Ordinance) buffer,” said Thacker. “This is a critical element in protecting the Beaver Creek watershed, and protection of this portion of the site during construction will be vigorously enforced. The only permanent improvements to the buffer will be a new planted “bio-filter” to further enhance the function of the buffer as a cleansing agent. Temporary impacts within the buffer will be limited to the implementation of erosion and sediment control measures, and any disturbance to the buffer will be mitigated before construction is complete and it will be restored to its native state.”

Thacker and his wife Maggie have lived on St. George Avenue for almost 15 years and have fond memories of walking three of their children to Crozet Elementary. He finds work on school projects to be incredibly fulfilling, especially collaborating with teachers. “Our firm has always believed that schools should be emblematic of their place, and I think that the unique design of Crozet Elementary mirrors the Crozet community’s proud, unique spirit,” he said.

Though the design phase will continue as planned, a decision on when to begin the construction phase has been postponed due to COVID-19 uncertainty. The original plan called for 18 months of construction beginning after the spring semester ends in 2021, concentrated in the summers to avoid disruption, and completed by the fall of 2022. 

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