Future Miller-Driscoll classrooms will look a little different

It has been four years since architects at Tai Soo Kim, now known as TSKP Studio, presented a plan for outfitting new classrooms and other spaces at Miller-Driscoll School. Since that time, the Miller-Driscoll Building Committee’s Fixtures, Furnishings and Equipment (FF& E) Subcommittee has looked again at those plans and has made some changes. They revolve around how teachers will teach and students will learn in the future.
The original plan was to furnish only the new rooms and leave everything else untouched, but earlier this year that was changed.
“What we are looking at is to refurbish classrooms more uniformly,” subcommittee chair Gretchen Jeanes told the Miller-Driscoll Building Committee at its meeting on Oct. 13. To expand on that, the subcommittee invited Miller-Driscoll Principal Kathryn Coon to the meeting to offer input on what classes will look like going forward.
She spoke of the need for more storage, and pieces like bookcases. She also spoke about how changes in technology will bring changes in how classrooms look. For example, as teachers and students move away from using desktop computers to laptops and handheld devices, there won’t be a need for desks for the computers. On the other hand, every classroom has a Smart Board, but they don’t have a table where the teacher can put a laptop and document camera.
After a month of meetings, the subcommittee came up with a plan that was presented by Jeanette O’Connell of TSKP Studio at the building committee’s meeting on Nov. 17. It will spread the new furniture across the grade levels.
All classrooms will have a mobile teacher’s desk and chair and a table for a document camera. Teachers who now do most of their work on laptops, said Coon, who was also at last week’s meeting, are happy to leave their big, stationary desks behind. In an attempt to achieve quality standards and uniformity, each classroom will receive an area rug. Right now, teachers are free to bring in their own rugs, which can be of all sizes, designs and quality. All classrooms will also have mobile teaching easels, and one table in each classroom will be ADA-compliant.
At the preschool level, which is going from five classrooms to four, the type of furniture will remain the same: activity tables, plywood chairs, cubby storage units, storage benches, in-classroom locker units, book displays, and stools on casters. There is also a chair with arms and a seat belt for physically challenged children and play furniture that converts from a seat to a table or bench.
Kindergarten to second grade classrooms will receive two bookcases each, low file cabinets, and cubby units. Each will also receive four stools that will fit around an activity table. The stools can move in different directions but are rubber so they won’t slide.
While children in kindergarten will continue to sit at tables and first graders will keep their desks, second graders will see something different — tables that seat two students with book baskets underneath. Two or more of the tables wcan be put together to enable student collaboration.
Second grade classrooms will also be outfitted with dynamic seats that flex back but cannot tip over. “Studies show that if students can move their chairs they can focus better,” O’Connell said. “It’s a dynamic way of learning,” which, she said, has been shown to improve attention span.
In the cafeteria, there will be rectangular and round tables with attached individual stools, as opposed to benches. Coon said the stools are easier to get in and out of and also offer a defined space for the children. The rectangular tables can also accommodate a wheelchair at either end. There are also round tables with individual chairs that can accommodate wheelchairs.
The two art rooms will receive tables and stools, and the music room will receive storage bins for instruments, file cabinets, and shelving. Both will also receive a mobile teacher’s desk, chair, and document camera table.
The cost of these items totaled approximately $570,000, just under the budget of $600,000.
Committee member Dick Dubow asked if it was likely additional equipment would be needed a few years from now. Chris Burney, the town’s energy and facilities management director, said the move to 1:1 technology devices in second grade will require charging stations “but that move hasn’t yet been implemented.” He indicated that any remaining items that may need to be replaced can be paid for out of the district’s operating budget and would not need to be bonded.
Coon said she was very happy with the results. “We really were cognizant of the fact we didn’t want to take something we already had and replace it with the same thing,” she said.
The committee moved ahead with approving the purchase of the furniture.
The next meeting will take place Thursday, Dec. 8, at 5 p.m. in the Wilton High School library mezzanine.