NORTHFIELD – The brand new Sunset Ridge School in Northfield is complete, just in time for the new academic year. Located where a one-room schoolhouse once stood in 1892, the school is a now up and running, serving approximately 300 students in fourth through eighth grade.
On September 12, the Northfield School District 29 held an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony, welcoming the community to explore the brand-new facilities. In a festive atmosphere where the school band and orchestra played The Star Spangle Banner, administrators thanked everyone involved in the project.
While construction began on April 12, 2016, planning for the new school started in the fall of 2014. Constructed where soccer fields used to be located, the new school replaces a building that was originally constructed in 1930 and badly in need of costly repairs.
The new school cost approximately $27.7 million to complete, plus an additional $1 million of private donations afforded the purchase of furniture, theater and sports equipment, and historic preservation items. The district avoided tax increases by utilizing $2 million in reserves and financing approximately $25 million through a 20-year capital lease.
The new, 70,000-square-foot school is about the same size as the old school, but it is flexible by design to meet the needs of modern learning. Attention to detail can be found throughout, such as the parent drop-off station at the building’s entrance, and the indoor living wall that includes a cascade of plants.
The layout is centered on a “village square” concept, which includes a high school regulation-size gymnasium, dining, performance space, and library. An outdoor common space sits at the center of the school, where picnic tables and playground equipment are located.
An open concept keeps the performance, dining and library spaces interconnected. A reading loft on the second story overlooks the library on the first floor. All of the classrooms have glass windows facing the halls, allowing anyone to get a glimpse of what is happening inside.
Each of the academic wings include small-group rooms for breakout learning, as well as living rooms in the hallways. These common spaces have couches and comfy chairs, where students can work outside of the classrooms.
Aimee and Rich Keefer, who toured the building with their sons in fifth and seventh grade, liked the new hallway common spaces. “The living rooms are a great way to take the kids out of the classroom where they may have lost focus,” Aimee said. To her husband, it looked like a high-tech office space. “It’s like Google for kids,” he remarked.
While the forward-thinking design brings Sunset Ridge into the 21st century, the “Legacy Room” is an effort to honor the past. The walls of the room were constructed from wood from the old Sunset Ridge School. Likewise, stained glass windows from the old school decorate the library.
Jessica Akaah toured the school with her four children who are in third grade, kindergarten and preschool. She liked the outdoor and small group spaces, and that the building is LEED certified.
“I think it is amazing,” she said.