Facilities

Issues

For decades the accomplishments of Commonwealth’s students in the arts and academics have been far more impressive than its facilities. We have made the best use possible of our science laboratories, studios, performance spaces and the like, often through partnerships with other nearby institutions. With visiting families and prospective students, however, we have to work hard to overcome doubts raised by the relative coziness and modesty of our classrooms, labs, and studios. We believe that improving facilities is vitally important to increasing Commonwealth’s appeal and to supporting our work.

In addition, the recent move of our business and development offices from the Ames-Webster mansion to Haddon Hall has highlighted the vulnerability of leasing space as well as the difficulty posed to the collaboration and morale of our staff by the physical separation from the rest of the school.

Findings

The Facilities Committee first focused on upgrading the facilities we have—particularly the science classrooms. Securing permanent additional space as close as possible to the school was another priority. Given our commitment to staying in the Back Bay, and given the challenges posed by building and zoning restrictions, the committee felt that exploring a number of options made sense, and that addressing these challenges might best be done by taking advantage of opportunities as they arose rather than compling a wish list that might narrow our options even before we started.

We explored building an addition off the back of 151 Commonwealth and learned that, given code restrictions and very clear record against the kind of zoning variances we would need in the Back Bay, this plan is not feasible.

We then moved forward with the development of a Facilities Master Plan to make our current building as flexible, effective, and attractive as possible. In the course of that exercise, we became sharply aware of the extent to which we need to upgrade the buildings systems and envelope, and of the opportunity to expand accessibility because of the requirement, triggered by renovations, to comply with the ADA.

Recommendations

We agreed to take up a number of initiatives spelled out in the Facilities Master Plan.

  • Renovate and expand the chemistry and biology labs so as to:
    • Improve workflow and increase flexibility of spaces, potentially making them interchangeable;
    • Improve options for scheduling, course preparation and content
    • Increase the visibility and appeal of sciences at Commonwealth
    • Address currently identified needs, but also integrate with possible future expansion.
  • Create a dedicated room/laboratory for physics.
  • Relocate the stairs to the lower level, which will increase the space available for science facilities on floor 1 and allow reconfiguration of the lower level to improve flow and utility.
  • Renovate and reconfigure floors G-5 to improve circulation for students, faculty and visitors; consolidate functions; create more conference and flexible-use spaces; relieve points of congestion; and improve classroom lighting, furniture, equipment and technology.
  • Make the building energy efficient year-round with replacement of windows and replacement of the steam heat system with a high-efficiency air-source heat pump system for heating and cooling.
  • Install an elevator to increase accessibility and conform to ADA requirements.
  • Upgrade fire protection.

Next Steps

Facilities Master Plan

We are developing plans for a multiyear construction project (during summers) to implement the Facilities Master Plan.

Funding

Funding of the renovations will be an early objective of an upcoming capital campaign, and securing new or enhanced facilities will constitute a major part of the campaign.