Editorial: Athol, Royalston ace their elementary school construction project

Saturday, April 14, 2018

While it’s been in use for more than a year now, the Athol Community Elementary School is still collecting accolades. You could say it just aced an architectural design review.

Athol-Royalston Regional School District’s newest school just received a top achievement award from the Collaborative for High Performance Schools.

The Athol Community Elementary School has earned the CHPS Verified Leader Status ranking, the highest level of recognition for high-performance school buildings.

The school scored a perfect 61 points under the CHPS evaluation that scores for ways school buildings improve the education and health of the state’s students. Compliance with the benchmarks ensures that students learn in healthy, comfortable spaces that minimize impact on the environment. High-performance schools can deliver many benefits to school occupants, such as improved health, increased student performance, decreased operating costs and energy savings, according to Arnel Catalan, associate principal for Mount Vernon Group Architects, which announced the award at a recent Athol-Royalston Regional School Committee meeting.

He said ACES, as the new school is sometimes called, is “leading the movement to build a new generation of healthy, high performance, green schools.”

His organization believes students learn better in schools with good lighting, clean air and comfortable classrooms. Their mission is to foster well-designed, operated and maintained educational facilities that enhance student performance; positively impact student, teacher and staff health and wellness; make education more enjoyable and rewarding; and promote positive environmental stewardship.

Other goals are to conserve energy, water and other natural resources; reduce waste, pollution and environmental degradation.

Whenever an old, dated school building is replaced, proponents often tout the educational benefits of a modern structure, how students will learn better in a better environment, and how teachers will teach better and have better morale.

The Collaborative for High Performance Schools evaluation supports that view and quantifies it.

The organization evaluates seven standards for healthy, cost-effective, high-performance learning environments. Among them:

Sophisticated ventilation and reduction of indoor pollutants.

Modern insulation and heating and lighting systems. For example, the school’s music room features solar tubes that use mirrors to collect sunlight and use it as natural light in the room.

Reduction of distracting noise levels to improve communication in classrooms.

Use of modern electronics to monitor classroom temperature and humidity to improve student and teacher comfort.

Other measures that conserve water use and reduce waste.

Robert Rouleau, the district’s director of transportation and facilities, who was directly involved in the $44 million project, notes that all this was accomplished $3 million under budget and on time. That’s no routine feat in the history of public projects in Massachusetts.

The two-story, 31-classroom ACES serves children from Athol and Royalston in preschool through grade 4, and by all accounts is serving them well.

Sometimes schools win awards because their architects design an attractive structure. That’s nice, but it doesn’t necessarily do much for the students inside. In this case, the kudos is for building a school that enhances the health and learning experience of the children.

The people of Athol and Royalston who supported the project, and all those who are paying for this award-winning school, should take great pride in a job well done for their children and the community as a whole.

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