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Waddell Renovation Plan Includes Indoor Slide

Yes, there will be a slide in the lobby of Waddell Elementary School after renovations there are complete --- and that’s just one example of how school design is changing.

“It’s not just about the three Rs,” said Brian Murphy, an attorney in town and the chairman of the town building committee. He noted that many factors go into designing buildings that will best serve the needs of all 21st Century learners, and added:  “Schools should also be fun.”

Manchester is at the front end of an ambitious 10-year plan to reconfigure and renovate its elementary schools, and officials say plans are based on a variety of principles and objectives.

For example, goals include meeting the needs of active, personalized learners and encouraging a culture of collaboration. Officials also say they want the buildings to be bright, colorful and welcoming, places where learning will be joyful and students easily excited and inspired. Staying competitive with magnet schools (as Murphy says, “CREC seems to have a bottomless pit of money”) is also a factor.

“Buildings are just part of a complex equation,” Superintendent Matt Geary said. “We need excellent instruction and high expectations for all students and strong partnerships throughout the community. And we also need schools that are thoughtfully designed and equipped, and give all of our students the resources and environment they need so that they can become lifelong learners and responsible members of society who are prepared for rapidly changing times.”

Manchester’s plan actually involves a series of projects:

Work on the Cheney Building is under way and scheduled to be finished next summer. Waddell students and staff will then use the Cheney Building during the 2017-18 academic year, as Waddell is being renovated. In 2018-19, all of the district’s fifth-graders will move to the Cheney Building, the Waddell community will return to its renovated home, and work will commence on the other elementary schools following a plan outlined here.

If all goes well (and voters approve another referendum), Manchester’s pre-K through grade 6 students all will, by 2025, enjoy modernized, comparable and appropriate facilities.

But what will these schools look like? That continues to evolve, just as education itself keeps changing.

Preliminary plans for Waddell (which you can see here) give an indication of not just how school design is changing, but how architecture in general is evolving.

“The world is so different than it was for us growing up,”  said Randall Luther of TSKP Studio, the firm founded by renowned architect Tai Koo Sim, which is handling the Waddell project.  “Expectations are so much higher today and we now know that people work, learn, and create so much better when they are happy and enjoy their environment.  Anyone visiting the campus of Google, YouTube, or any number of successful companies can see slides, ping pong tables, ball pits, etc. because these companies have learned the importance of fun and flexible environments on performance.”

(If you want to see some spectacular office slides -- including one at a healthcare company in Australia that dumps employees into a ball pit --  check out this link.)

Which brings us back to the slide in the Waddell lobby.

“We want kids to look forward to school, to be excited about going and, sure, to have fun,” said Geary, himself the father of three children (including a second-grader and kindergartner). “We also want students to feel inspired and to be creative -- and a slide inside a school is a sure sign to kids that anything is possible, which is exactly how we want them to think.”

Luther noted that all the elementary schools in Manchester have slides -- but they just happen to be outside. “We just moved the same slide inside so it can be used everyday as part of the daily routine,” he said.

Schools in Atlanta, Charlotte and elsewhere have indoor slides and reports are all positive, although as is often the case in education it is difficult to measure the effect of a single strategy or initiative because so many other variables come into play.

For example, the media center at Waddell also will have comfy reading nooks and likely an indoor “tree house.”

Incidentally, an indoor tree house has been hugely popular at a new school in Joplin, Missouri -- a town torn apart five years ago by a tornado that destroyed its high school, a middle school and two elementary schools. You can see some of highlights of Joplin’s new schools here, including a media center “genius bar” -- essentially, a counter where students sit on stools, their computers in front of them, as a media specialist moves around, helping them access and process information.

Murphy noted that he was a member of SMARTR (the School Modernization and Reinvestment Team Revisited) that met repeatedly to develop and recommend a “long-term, big-picture strategy” that would address Manchester school infrastructure needs, and recalls a frequent lament -- that local public schools were often unattractive and unappealing, especially compared to magnet and other schools that were innovative and exciting.

He and others said there was a lot of discussion about the importance of making Manchester schools fresh and exciting.

“We knew we needed to make ours schools different, make them stand out,” he said.

Chris Pattacini, chairman of the school board, said he is pleased with progress being made as the town addresses school infrastructure.

“We have a long way to go but I’m encouraged with the way the Cheney Building project is coming along and excited about the possibilities for Waddell and the other elementary schools,” Pattacini said, adding that his goal is to ensure that students are educated in the best facilities the town can afford.

“We have a lot to be proud of already,” Pattacini said, “and as we continue to renovate and refurbish our schools, I believe everyone in town will feel an even greater sense of pride.”

Luther, the architect, also made note of psychological benefits.

“For me, the slide is symbolic,” he said. “It says that it is not business as usual.  Moving the slide inside is a simple strategy to announce that this is a new century, with new paradigms, and Manchester is prepared.  It also doesn’t hurt that kids will love it!”

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