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Posted on 12/21/2015

Students Move into the New Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. School and Putnam Avenue Upper School 

“Oh! OH!! WOW! First one to sit in those chairs! This is the LIBRARY?” 

“Ms. Chung, I’m never leaving middle school.” 

The excitement of Putnam Avenue Upper School students couldn’t be contained last Friday, when they toured their new school building for the very first time. Along with awe-struck JK-5 students from the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. School, the students got a glimpse of their new school building in advance of their final move date. 

The new, state-of-the-art facility was designed to operate seamlessly as two separate schools with several shared spaces. Each school has its own wing of the building, with classrooms clustered cozily together across three floors. From its interior entry courtyard, the King School is located to the right, on the Magee Street side of the building. Putnam Avenue is located to the left, towards Kinnaird Street. 

King School students appeared overcome by the sights and sounds as they toured the building. When asked by Superintendent of Schools Jeff Young which room they liked best, they grew animated, trying to decide. “The cafeteria!” said one student. “No, wait, actually, my classroom. No, the auditorium!” 

As they entered each new area –spacious libraries, brightly-lit hallways and stairwells—the students could barely contain their enthusiasm. Emerging from the girls’ room, one student remarked, “even the bathrooms are fancy.” While it was hard to choose a favorite among the building’s new spaces, a group of third graders were unanimous about whether they’d miss their old building. With big smiles spreading across their faces, they all agreed: “I like this one better.” 

Some resources designated for each separate school are grouped together, such as side-by-side music rooms and art rooms located one floor above/below each another to accommodate kiln rooms for ceramics. Each school also has its own gym. Putnam Avenue’s features a full-size basketball court, bleachers, and scoreboard; while the King School gym is less overwhelming-- designed for the active play needs of its younger students. Putnam Avenue students will also have access to a fully-equipped fitness room—offering a brand new way to build healthy habits for the future. 

At the center of the building, the two schools share an auditorium, cafeteria and central hallway; as well as access to the playgrounds, gyms, Department of Human Services After-School, Preschool, and Community Schools programs. The shared cafeteria offers a full servery, where some of CPS’s most skilled food services staff will be stationed. At breakfast and lunchtime, students can choose between flexible tables and restaurant-style booths within a dynamic space that will support positive social interaction. 

Sustainability practices are built into all the building’s spaces, including the use of recycled materials in the flooring and fixtures; energy efficient heating, lighting and air conditioning; recycling/composting stations throughout the building, and eco-friendly design touches such as reclaimed wood from Western Massachusetts in the main office and library reception area. 

Also woven into the schools is an emphasis on the arts. For instance, a metal sculpture commemorating Civil Disobedience during the Civil Rights era has been relocated from the old King School lobby to an open hallway used by the new PAUS. Upon seeing it, an 8th Grader who graduated from the King School remarked to her friend, "They saved it! Do you remember? That makes me feel so at home." Nearby, an interactive art installation uses movement to trigger sound and light, promising to put on a display if students work out a puzzle located on a small computer screen. 

The shared auditorium is one of the most spectacular rooms in the building. Natural materials mingle with patterns and colors inspired by nature, from carpeted aisles evoking mossy paths; to the bamboo and wood panels on the rear wall of its balcony. Its pristine seating, including wheelchair access in the front row and to each side, faces beautiful glass doors at the back of the stage. Leading out to the building’s central courtyard, the glass doors can disappear behind light-blocking curtains, creating a perfect black box for student performances. The stair-stepped stage is perfectly scaled for Kindergarteners, while the lighting equipment and adjoining classrooms offer unparalleled enrichment for students in the Upper School drama program. 

As their classmates turned to leave the space, two eighth graders lingered onstage. Inspired and happy, they turned towards the audience and started dancing.

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