The uncertainty surrounding school openings this fall is partly rooted in a concern that school facilities haven’t been adequately designed to reduce the spread of germs between students, faculty, and administrators. Given the challenges of remote learning, especially to younger children for whom tactility, physical interaction, and dynamic attention are essential, it is critical for architects and engineers to offer alternative solutions in designing the classrooms of tomorrow. In this setting, Agencie has designed a COVID ready Early Education Center at Primary Prep, a transformative education startup based in New Jersey.
The curriculum at Primary Prep is anchored in interactive and immersive play, in part as a counter to the fully digitized teaching format of recent months, but also due to the founders’ belief that learning is crystallized through engaging activity. Agencie’s design approach has been to create uniquely themed spaces that students migrate through on a rotating calendar during the week, reducing touch points across the facility, while also implementing key recommendations by the ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force pertaining air filtration and purification.
The containment strategy for this school includes adherence to cohorting guidelines between student groups as recommended by the Center for Disease Control. To avoid repetition, and the dreaded boredom this brings on, students migrate between differently themed rooms on subsequent school days, allowing time in between day sessions for cleaning and maintenance. The premise is that aligning educational topics to the theme of a room is both stimulating and safe for students and staff.
The heating, cooling and conditioning strategies for the school serve as an exemplary case study. Mechanically speaking, the school has been zoned off into discreet sectors, with dedicated fresh air intake, ionization filters, and energy recovery ventilators servicing each respective zone. While this increases equipment requirements and cost, and complicates coordination across disciplines (sprinkler, lighting, and sound requirements), it is a proactive and necessary solution to mitigating aerosol distribution of germ contaminated air across the different cohort groups. In preparing for the new realities of schools, we encourage you to consider some of the innovative tools deployed by Agencie at Primary Prep in order to create COVID ready interactive environments that promote mental and physical welfare.