A Beautiful, Ground-Breaking New Building Is Rising at Common Ground

By Joel Tolman, Director of Impact & Engagement

Each morning this summer, I’ve moved my office to a picnic table on the hilltop overlooking Common Ground’s lower campus. I am not alone in changing my daily routines so that I can take in the progress on Common Ground’s new building. Summer camp families and high school students back for summer school can’t help but stop at Common Ground’s Harvest Pavilion, watching the crane lower a thousand pound wooden beam into place. Teachers make special trips back, when they should be on summer vacation, to peer through the construction fence into their new sciences classrooms. Our Green Jobs Corps members pause from their work on a new butterfly garden, wetland bridge, and blueberry arbor to compare notes with the other team hard at work on our site. We are watching something beautiful, and significant, come to life on our campus.


Students, staff, and supporters venture inside the construction fence for a hard hat tour of Common Ground’s new school building.

This is a big moment for Common Ground — and it’s worth pausing to celebrate. In late July, about 5 dozen Common Ground students, staff, and supporters gathered on our campus to mark two huge milestones in the creation of our state-of-the-art, sustainable school building: the completion of fundraising efforts necessary to finish the project, and the launch of construction on the new school itself.

Curious to learn why we’re celebrating? You can read news coverage about our innovative new building, and about our construction celebration, by following these links — or by scrolling down for more pictures and some of the words shared at that event:

[button url=”http://www.nbcconnecticut.com/video/#!/on-air/as-seen-on/New-Building-for-Common-Ground-School/320156771″]Watch a video at NBC Connecticut »[/button]


[button url=”http://www.nhregister.com/general-news/20150729/common-ground-construction-in-new-haven-focuses-on-sustainability”]Read more at the New Haven Register»[/button]


[button url=”http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/common_ground_breaks_ground/”]Read more at the New Haven Independent»[/button]


[button url=”http://wnpr.org/post/new-haven-school-use-state-art-building-teach-sustainability#stream/0″]Listen and see more at WNPR»[/button]


State & private funding committed …

The first reason for celebration: at the end of the legislative session in June, the Connecticut General Assembly approved the final funding necessary to complete Common Ground’s new building. Public funding is being matched by $2.1 million in contributions community members, foundations, and local businesses.

“We are so grateful to the members of New Haven’s legislative delegation, and to Mayor Harp, for championing this project,” said Melissa Spear, Common Ground’s Executive Director, at our July construction celebration. “And we owe huge thanks to the more than 300 neighbors, businesses, and grantmakers who stepped up to help us reach our campaign goal. This building that is built with crane safety zone light and other pieces of equipment will give our powerful, diverse student body, and all the community members who join in our programs, the learning environment they deserve.”


Mayor Toni Harp was a key advocate for public funding of Common Ground’s new school building.

For Major Toni Harp, present at last week’s celebration, the new building represents an important resource for the City of New Haven. “There are two aspects of this project I genuinely admire, the first is the public/private partnership to underwrite the cost of construction: if you’ll allow the expression, I applaud the ‘organic’ nature of private fundraising to match hard-earned state funding,” Mayor Toni N. Harp said. “I also embrace expansion of the success Common Ground has had in general, teaching sustainable techniques and innovative green building practices as a demand for environmental stewardship continues to grow.”

“Common Ground is a superb school that provides an extraordinarily nurturing atmosphere for its students and is one of the most successful charter schools around,” said Senate President Martin M. Looney (D-New Haven). “Their educational commitment to the values of environmental stewardship can also be seen in the sustainable materials selected for the construction of the new school. I want to thank Governor Malloy and the New Haven delegation for their support of this important project.” 

… Helping to create an innovative, sustainable learning environment

As a result of this public and private support, Common Ground’s new building has just begun rising from its foundation. This new 15,000 square foot building on Common Ground’s campus will allow Common Ground to expand from 180 to 225 students, welcome more than 15,000 children and adults into the programs of its environmental education center, model innovative green building practices, and give students and community members a high-quality learning environment.

The building, designed by Gray Organschi Architecture and constructed under the management of Newfield Construction, aims to put Common Ground’s environmental mission into action.


Alan Organschi, Gray Organschi Architects, describes how Common Ground’s new school building models sustainable building practices.

“The new building at Common Ground High School offered our design team the rare opportunity to work closely with dedicated teachers and deeply engaged students to craft a special architectural design, “ says Alan Organschi, partner at Gray Organschi Architecture. “Their challenge to us was this: make a building that is healthy for both the school community and our global environment; durable in its construction using sustainable systems and renewable materials in a legible and innovative way; flexible enough to adapt to the school’s rich and constantly evolving curriculum; respectful of the buildings and spaces that give this wonderful institution its character.  The goals for this new addition to the working landscape of farm buildings, gardens, forests and wetlands that serve as Common Ground’s home and “classroom” was a a building that would teach about the complex and potentially convivial relationship between the built and the natural environment.”

In keeping with Common Ground’s commitment to sustainable environmental practice, the high efficiency building is constructed using a pioneering cross laminate timber system that is designed to minimize climate change impact, reduce waste and energy use, and use renewable resources.  Bensonwood, a New Hampshire-based company, engineered and pre-fabricated the building’s frame and walls. Common Ground is one of the country’s first public schools to use this innovative construction method, according to Tedd Benson, the founder of Bensonwood:


Ted Benson, the founder of Bensonwood, and Jean-Marc Dubois of Nordic Wood helped engineer and fabricate the innovative cross-laminated timber structure that’s at the heart of Common Ground’s new building.

“It’s our honor to be in a partnership to build Common Ground. The finest buildings happen when values and mission are integrated into the every aspect of design and construction. The best buildings aren’t just honest; they are a statement of truth in themselves, and say much about what is possible because their qualities and integrity undeniably exist. At Common Ground, next generations will learn how we can and should care for our environment to make a better world. There will be mountains of words and reams of data coming out of these classrooms, but there will also be this sustainable, optimistic, secure and beautiful place with its silent and profound truth about a good and possible future.”

Common Ground sophomore Elijah Voss, a member of our Green Jobs Corps, describes visiting the New Hampshire facility where Common Ground's building was pre-fabricated.

Common Ground sophomore Elijah Voss, a member of our Green Jobs Corps, describes visiting the New Hampshire facility where Common Ground’s building was pre-fabricated.

Some Common Ground students, like Elijah Voss, have been following construction since its very beginning – and this month had the chance to visit the Bensonwood facility where the building’s frame and walls were being constructed. At our construction celebration, Elijah and others had the chance to step inside the construction fence for the first time. “It’s amazing to see the evolution of Common Ground happening before my eyes,” said Elijah Voss, “and I’m proud to be part of that process.”


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