The LearningSpring School was the very first educational facility in New York State to receive a LEED Gold certification under the rigorous LEED For Schools rating system.
Founded in 2001 by a parent group, the LearningSpring School is a 108-student K through 8th grade private day school for children diagnosed on the autism spectrum. The new eight-story building is situated on the northwest corner of 20th Street and 2nd Avenue in Manhattan. It contains a full range of academic, athletic, and special needs spaces arranged internally as a vertical campus, designed to support the special social, physical, and educational needs of its students.
Higher-occupancy spaces, including the gymnasium, library, and lunchroom, as well as administrative functions, are located on the bottom two floors where the floor plates are the largest. Of the six upper stories, two are for lower school classrooms, two are for shared therapy and special education spaces, and two are for the upper classrooms. Classrooms are paired as suites, sharing resource areas, quiet study rooms, and toilets. To provide ample opportunity for informal socialization, seating alcoves off corridors are spread through the building. Circulation between the floors is through a glass-enclosed communicating stair. Classrooms and corridors are finished with cork floors, bamboo casework, and natural wall fabrics, helping to produce a calm and intimate learning environment.
The needs of the LearningSpring students are virtually synonymous with the LEED requirements for a sustainable building. They needed classrooms where teachers could allow in daylight, but limit distracting views. They needed therapy rooms where students did not have to expend energy tuning out background noise. They needed natural materials that would not off-gas noxious chemicals. Over 96% of the classrooms and core learning spaces have direct access to daylight and views. Enhanced acoustic isolation between the classrooms and the exterior, as well as cork floors throughout the classrooms and corridors help absorb sound and limit sound transfer between spaces. Exterior sunshades are incorporated into the east and south facades to optimize solar heat gain in the winter, while reducing it in the summer. This strategy, along with natural daylight and daylight sensors in most spaces, reduced the required size of the HVAC system. With the installation of low-flow fixtures, and dual-flush water closets, potable water use is reduced by over 47% from a baseline design. Over 32% of the total building content have been manufactured using recycled materials. Over 22% of the total building materials have been extracted and manufactured within 500 miles of the project site. Over 64% of the construction waste generated on site was diverted from landfills. In addition to all indoor paints and coatings, adhesives and sealants, and installed flooring systems being either low or no VOC, all classroom furniture and seating is GREENGUARD or GREENGUARD for Children & Schools certified.
To protect the façades of the building from the unobstructed southeast exposure to the sun, and to provide a visual buffer from the busy intersection, the building is draped with an aluminum and stainless steel sunscreen supported by an external steel armature. Behind is an aluminum, glass and zinc curtain wall. Flanking the adjacent buildings to the north and west and extending along the base of the building is a terracotta rainscreen. Between the two systems is a vertical band of tubular channel glass marking important circulation spaces within. The resulting architecture provides a welcoming and dignified representation of a group of children and their educators long underserved by the city’s schools.