In 2019, the Town of Darien engaged SLAM to design their new elementary school to provide an inspirational place of learning for students in grades K-5 as well as their district-wide Early Learning Program. Supporting their vision for teaching and learning, the new school needed to allow for future expansion to accommodate enrollment growth, flexibility in programmatic uses for various learning methods, and explore potential community use and access opportunities.
Through a previous master plan effort, it was determined that the existing school was beyond its useful life and a replacement building was the best option. SLAM was tasked with finding a design solution that allowed Ox Ridge to remain operational in their current school, while the new building was constructed on the same 10-acre site. SLAM’s phased approach consisted of constructing the academic wing first, with the assembly wing to follow in the second phase.
The rectangular donut-shaped design of the academic wing embraces the change in elevation within that area of the site, placing the single-story Early Learning Program on the higher elevation, with the connecting two-story K-5 classroom wing opposite. The central two-level courtyard navigates the grade change between the two halves of the donut and serves as the main organizing element for the building. The courtyard features an amphitheater and a variety of outdoor learning spaces, including the “birds-nest” for small group reading or quiet reflection. Inside the K-5 wing, grade levels are organized into neighborhoods, each containing four classrooms and their own individual Learning Commons. The Learning Commons activates the corridor into an engaging “learning beyond the classroom” environment for students to interact with their peers and teachers.
This vibrant and inviting new building provides over 500 students, along with their families and the Darien community, a place that embraces the Ox Ridge mission to develop joyful, healthy and persistently curious learners. Dynamic and active learning environments, both outside and within the building, cater to all learner types, creating memorable and transformative experiences for the students. Building flexibility into the design allowed for the Early Learning Program spaces to be temporarily used for the gymnasium, cafeteria and library while the assembly wing gets constructed.