Montessori School of the Berkshires

The Montessori School of the Berkshires is located on a 40-acre campus in Lenoxdale, Massachusetts. Now in its 11th year, the school has grown from 26 students when it first opened to 130 students at the beginning of the 2018-2019 academic years.  Construction of their new school building was started August 2009 and completed in April 2010; students started classes April 26, 2010.

The school is certified as a High Performance Building under the Advanced Buildings Core Performance criteria and the original building was designed to LEED for Schools standards.

The original school building included 5 classrooms and a toddler room which were laid out around a central courtyard in order to provide a free-flow of movement between indoor and outdoor learning, enabling students to build their connection to the natural world. The original courtyard design included patios, gardening plots, a Zen meditation garden, and class meeting spaces.

The school campus was selected because of its diversity of woodlands and wetlands. The site design further developed this diversity with lawn, open meadow, orchard, and gardens areas.

After completion of the initial construction of the new school building, I was invited to serve on the Board of Trustees.  In that capacity, I provided pro bono services to the school and worked with Todd Covert, Head of School, on strategic planning for an addition to the school.  As the school had grown into its new building, it had evolved that many program needs were being accommodated within classrooms and there was a need for dedicated spaces for the school’s growing program.

Dana Bixby Architecture was hired as the architect for the addition project and a more detailed design was started for adding a library, a dedicated 7-8th grade classroom, a music room, multipurpose room, teacher’s room, and administrative spaces.  As the planning moved forward, it became apparent that the project would need to be carried out in two phases so as to match funding resources to project cost. The phase 2 portion of the project, including new outdoor play field and other outdoor facilities, was opened to all beginning in the fall of 2018.

The new library space, though modest, has an openness and connection to the school that balances the quiet and inward looking nature of a library.  Architecturally speaking the library space can be described as having an axiality that connects a person’s attention to the center, the inner world of reading and books, with a natural and easy awareness of what is in the periphery, the outer world. In this balancing of movement in space is an opportunity for the experience of balance within the person.

There is another aspect of this in that a room that evolved in the center of the addition, with no windows, is also the brightest space in the school because of a large skylight in the center of the room.  The center of the space where there is attention to the inner world of reading is open outwardly in this other way of being the brightest space in the school, and open vertically to the sky.

The initial project and the first phase addition project were completed with financing assistance from the USDA Rural Development program.