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Finegold Alexander Architects Completes Boston School Renovation

Last fall, the $15 million renovation of Boston Public Schools’ Eliot Innovation School building was completed.


One of America’s oldest continually operating schools got a modern makeover.

Last fall, the $15 million renovation of Boston Public Schools’ Eliot Innovation School building was completed. The two-year construction project is the final phase of an overall $33 million project to two Eliot Innovation school buildings.

The Eliot School is the oldest continuously operating school in the United States and has been located in the North End for its entire history. The school opened as the North Writing School in 1713 and has educated many famous Bostonians, including Samuel Adams and Paul Revere.

“I am thrilled to celebrate the opening of a new Eliot School building,” said Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. “This school is a big part of the North End’s history and will remain the heart and soul of this community for decades to come. Thank you to all our partners who made this possible, I look forward to all our students, teachers, families and the entire BPS community enjoying this beautiful building.”

Accessible, Collaborative, Vibrant

Finegold Alexander Architects served as the design architect and architect of record.

“The Eliot Innovation School offers students a truly unique experience,” said Rebecca Berry, President, Finegold Alexander Architects. “The waterfront location affords harbor, Zakim Bridge and USS Constitution views, with the Freedom Trail steps from the front door connecting students to their natural and historical environment and significantly enhancing the learning experience.”

The property was originally constructed in the 1960s as an FDA testing facility, more recently housing retail and office spaces. One of the biggest design successes is the creation of a vibrant school identity for this formerly nondescript office building.

Views and location connect students to their natural and historical environment—significantly enhancing the learning experience. Its waterfront location affords views to the Boston Harbor, Zakim Bridge and USS Constitution, with the Freedom Trail steps from the front door.

Construction of the school at 585 Commercial Street began in 2017 and the new, 42,000-square-foot school facility opened for the 2019 school year in September.

Interior highlights include a digital art studio, technology classroom with robotics lab and laser cutter, media center, and 18 new classrooms that promote collaborative learning.

The building features eight brightly colored projecting bays, which create “learning nooks” geared for small group instruction and collaborative learning. Exterior upgrades include a new schoolyard with play structure, new sidewalks, and an accessible entry.

Other design highlights include:

  • A new stair and elevator tower oriented to the Zakim Bridge clearly identify the school entry and provide for accessibility.
  • The colors used on the projecting bays and at the interior reference the natural world—green, blue and aqua—earth, sky, water.
  • Classroom furnishings are designed to allow for a variety of instructional styles, and flexibility within classrooms.
  • The kitchen design enables the Boston Public Schools’ Fresh Food Initiative to provide fresh produce and healthy meals to students.
  • A new exterior play space is accessible to the community and the new site design provides an additional means of access to the Boston Harborwalk.

Transforming Students’ Lives

Numerous building features promote sustainability and resiliency, including a new reflective roof, high R-Value insulation at the new building envelope, glazing that maximizes natural light. Mechanical improvements include a new electrical service located at the second floor for climate resilience, a new fire protection system, and 98% efficient boilers.

The school was designed to meet LEED Silver V4 for schools’ standards. The cafeteria accommodates the My Way Cafe school meals program, which provides students with fresh, healthy food options. The building features a multi-purpose space that may be utilized by the community.

“It’s incredible that our students are learning about American history and social studies with a view of the Bunker Hill Monument and the U.S.S. Constitution,” said Boston School Committee Chairperson Michael Loconto. “This beautiful new building will facilitate hands-on, collaborative learning experiences for our students and will undoubtedly serve as a model for future BPS construction projects.”

“The opening of the new Upper School is a true testament to our community’s and the City of Boston’s belief in public education and commitment to the Eliot School’s expansion,” said Principal Walker Griffith. “Every day our students, families, and faculty enter a magical, state-of-the-art building where they engage in learning and experiences on their path to being change agents of the future.

“As the proud principal of the Eliot School, I am forever grateful for a community deeply rooted in the mission that a great education can transform students’ lives.”

Barry added that Finegold Alexander Architects was honored to be a part of the Eliot School project. “We are excited to continue working with the Eliot School, Boston Public Schools and the City for Boston to design innovative, joyful learning environments for Boston’s future leaders!”

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