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  • Type New Construction
  • Services Architecture, Graphics, Interiors
  • Size 109,000 SF
  • Budget $32 Million
  • Awards AIA Eastern PA

The weeping willow was a starting point for baseball games, bike rides and childhood adventures. Easy to identify and conveniently located at Cheston Elementary School, the tree was the primary social spot for generations of neighbors. While the tree is now gone, Cheston remains an important community space where the Southside still gathers for Grandparents Day, holiday pageants and weekend basketball.

The Southside is a neighborhood in transition.

Residential row homes stand side-by-side with former factories and mills. Change has come slowly here, but the district’s investment set a new tone. As construction of Cheston progressed, a new residential development sprang from an adjacent industrial site. Proximity of the projects has amplified the impact of revitalization, creating long-term influence and a more sustainable future.

A neighborhood school is the community’s center

The building is warm and inviting to the neighborhood and simultaneously safe and secure for students. Two zones allow the community to use the gymnasium, cafeteria, media center and music rooms while the academic wing remains locked. A new pedestrian pathway aligned with Milton Street reinforces the neighborhood grid and creates a car-free zone for students at the front door. New green space is introduced where the old school was sited.

The school reflects the neighborhood

Cheston students pass parks, trees, light posts, benches, corner stores and houses as they traverse the neighborhood while walking to and from school. The design reflects the neighborhood to provide a comfortable learning environment full of familiar elements.

Inside, the community is greeted by an abstracted tree mural opposite the gymnasium and adjacent to the cafeteria. The tree doubles as a bench, creating a moment where students, teachers and members of the community can meet at the tree.

Greens and blues in the media center create a park-like setting for learning. The state-of-the-art space also provides community access to the latest technology, and diverse seating makes this a comfortable destination. Specialty spaces like art and music allow students to explore beyond academics.

A central stair marks the transition between the first, second and third stories as well as the academic and community wings while bringing daylight deep into the building. A treehouse mural unites the floors, and students climb to it as their academic careers advance.

Color for comfort

As an urban school district, much of Easton Area’s population is transient, moving from neighborhood to neighborhood as parents change jobs and residences. A district-wide grade-level color program provides a sense of comfort for students in new spaces. This program is integrated into elementary buildings like Cheston.

Everyone remembers the first day of school

Opening a new building is a celebratory event for students, parents and teachers; however, the pandemic paused such gatherings and forced a quick change to a virtual event.

With a goal to replicate the feeling of a school tour, we organized Cheston’s virtual ribbon-cutting over Zoom. Through taped interviews, the superintendent, school board president, principal and mayor welcomed Cheston students to their new building while expressing encouraging words about the school year. At the close, attendees were directed to a website with Matterport captures that allowed individual tours of the building’s largest spaces.