Our Lady of Grace - Gymnasium Addition

Clients for three previous projects, the sisters of the Our Lady of Grace Convent in Stamford, Connecticut, turned once more to Charles Hilton Architects with the idea for a new gymnasium for their preschool. Located in a 1920s colonial revival house, the convent began its educational mission with the construction of an adjacent school building in the early 1960’s, which was subsequently expanded in 1974. Although the school’s campus continued to facilitate quality education as it had for decades, it lacked a large assembly space for special performances, events, or indoor play during inclement weather. The new recreation and assembly room would require an addition to the existing school building, which was to be sited on hill sloped to the playground below.

Compatible with both the traditional character of the convent and the mid-century modern school building, the gymnasium addition has a two story brick façade with traditional buttressed piers and a modern, bowed roof. The interior is centered upon a 2,400 square foot recreation room, but also includes additional restrooms, a small stage, ample storage, and a food service pantry. To one side of the addition, a new, indoor stair offers easy access to the playground, effectively tying the school building to the terraced property below.

Attached to the existing school along a lengthy rear wall, the new gymnasium design has to allow sufficient light into the existing, contiguous building. As a result, the bowed roof of the new gymnasium is not only an aesthetic choice, but also a method of conveying light to the classrooms and skylights beyond. The scoop of the bow also aesthetically transitions the large volume of the gymnasium down to the playground elevation below, a buttressed brick arcade.

Supported by a series of large trusses which are open to the recreation room beneath, the roof of the gymnasium is also a key component of the efficiency plan for the addition. Large solar arrays on both the new and old roofs provide much of the school’s electricity, while a new, high efficiency HVAC system and LED lighting minimize the heating and cooling loads inside. The windows in the gymnasium, generously sized to allow ample light and views of the playground and woods beyond, are built for efficiency. Their triple pane glazing, combined with spray foam insulation throughout the structure, allows for minimal energy loss in either summer or winter.

The efficient design and quality construction of the Our Lady of Grace Preschool’s new gymnasium should serve the school well for decades to come. Its addition completes the campus, offering a cohesive education and recreation space both indoors and out.

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“I have tremendous respect for Chuck and his insightful creativity. His projects are always invigorating and fulfilling challenges. Collaborating with him over the recent years has been a pleasure not only because of his professionalism, but because his overall work ethic and creative eye are a true testament to his passion. I look forward to future projects with Charles Hilton Architects and what we can achieve.”
— Gerry Flynn, M.G. Flynn Contracting

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