Ahead of
Its Class

In 2004 St. Philip’s Academy made a commitment. With its hometown Newark, New Jersey, seeking signs of urban renewal and the school’s existing facilities increasingly overcrowded, St. Philip’s decided to become a transformational force in the community.

Honoring a mission statement that pledges support for Newark’s revitalization, school officials started looking for a property in the city’s central ward. The idea was simple: move to a neighborhood in need of rebuilding and spur Newark’s regeneration from the inside out.

A Catalyst for Change

St. Philip’s, a private school for grades K-8, had seen its programming grow significantly since the school’s founding in 1988. Having outgrown its second building, St. Philip’s and its 330+ students wanted a facility that fostered new approaches to learning. After considering more than 20 potential locations and the option to build new, St. Philip’s selected an abandoned factory surrounded by burned-out houses and vacant lots in Newark’s former industrial core.

“This location signals our ongoing commitment to urban education,” said Head of School Miguel Brito. “It has also enabled us to demonstrate civic leadership in the city’s redevelopment.”

From Factory to Beacon of Hope

With input from school officials and local families, Gensler adapted St. Philip’s new home, a 1920s chocolate factory, into a 21st century learning environment with a strong sustainable ethic. Although the existing 55,000-square-foot factory had been vacant for four decades and fallen into disrepair, Gensler was able to retain 80% of the original building.

“I’m proud to say that we kept a large portion of the existing structure out of landfills,” said Gensler’s Ralph Walker, the project architect. “One of our design team goals was to reduce our impact by using what was available locally. And when I say locally, I mean right on the site.”

School as Teaching Tool

St. Philip’s wanted the new school to create a vibrant learning environment that expands curricula options and promotes creativity in education. To achieve this transformation, designers crafted a facility characterized by its flexible — rather than fixed — spaces. Classrooms filled with light, color and flexible furniture encourage creativity, collaboration and imagination.

Teachers leverage their new school as a learning laboratory, highlighting the sustainable features of the building’s design. Spaces, including the gymnasium, with outdoor access to playing fields and a rooftop garden and environmental center, are used as teaching tools.

New Models for Learning

Using the school’s non-conventional learning spaces, students directly engage nature, community and sustainability. Students learn to grow fruits and vegetables on the school’s roof, which are then served in the cafeteria. Food waste is turned into compost for the roof garden, creating a “closed loop” that teaches children about nutrition, health and the environment.

Designed to meet a LEED® Silver 2.1 rating, St. Philip’s will be one of Newark’s first LEED-certified structures. Radiant heat, low VOC paints and a green roof that can be planted as a working garden are all important features of the new building.

Sustaining the Future

Strong schools can act as primary agents in improving the quality of life and safety of a neighborhood. As a LEED® building, St. Philip’s is creating opportunities to improve the health and educational settings for all its students, regardless of income or background. At the same time, the school is having a tangible impact on development in Newark.

On one city block, more than 20 homes have been built in less than one year,” Brito said. “I think the neighborhood is learning from the children. We’ve taken another block and taken ownership of it. The kids are cleaning it. They’re making a difference…”

Leah Ray with Aaron Smith—Gensler Firmwide Communications

Michael Moran: pages 1—6

*For detailed information, please roll over imagery on individual story pages.

For more information on St. Philip's Academy see:

Gensler Project Contact
Ralph Walker (Gensler—New York): ralph_walker@gensler.com 

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