Photograph of the two-story, multifamily building where the learning center operated prior to the construction of the new facility. Two doors and 18 windows are located on the main façade. An end façade with one door and four windows is partially hidden by a large shrub.
   A photograph of the interior of the old learning center showing staff, students, and parents around a small table.
   A site plan showing the community center in relation to the apartment buildings. On the left side of the site, the community center is one of four buildings grouped around a central lawn. On the right of the site, three buildings create a u-shape around another lawn area. The two groups of buildings are separated by a third lawn area. Three small parking areas are located below the buildings, and one large parking lot is at the top of the site.
   Floor plan of the community center showing the building entrance, a partially enclosed room and the stairway to the loft on the left side of the building. The center portion of the building is one large area accommodating 10 desk carrels along the outside walls and two 6-seated tables in the middle of the room. The right side of the building contains ancillary rooms, including a staff office, a small kitchen, and restrooms.
   A photograph of the inside of the center’s large room. An adult is walking inside the building entrance. A child walks in the central portion of the room, where two other children are studying at one of tables. Three desk carrels line the side wall. Behind the children are a small room and stairs leading to the loft, occupied by four children.
   A photograph of the central area taken from the staff office. Two children sit at two tables and two other children occupy two of the five desk carrels on the right side of the photo graph. In the background are the building entrance, stairway to the loft, the loft (where two children are standing), and the reading room (underneath the loft, where a child is seated).
   A photograph of nine instructors and students, all wearing hardhats, in the construction zone, with lumber in the foreground and a partially constructed wall near the students. A school bus is in the middleground behind a chain-link fence.
   A cross-section drawing of the community center, with notes about the different features and design considerations to reduce energy consumption.
   A photograph of the main façade of the Allencrest Community Center. The main entrance to the building is on the left, where the loft is located. The entrance and loft, as well as the middle portion of the building have extensive windows. The right portion of the building has four small windows. Paved walking areas and a small lawn are in the foreground. A parking area in the background can be seen at either end of the building.

Home > Case Studies > Leominster, Massachusetts: Allencrest Community Center

 

Leominster, Massachusetts: Allencrest Community Center

 

The Allencrest Community Center in Leominster, Massachusetts is providing students with a rich learning environment while serving as a national model of community-based architecture. Leveraging a $400,000 grant from the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, the Leominster Housing Authority (LHA) partnered with an area vocational school and with Boston-based Abacus Architects + Planners to design and construct the facility. The quality of the design and the community partnerships that made the project possible helped earn the project the 2013 American Institute of Architects/HUD Secretary’s Award for Community-Informed Design.

Background

For years, children living in LHA’s Allencrest Apartments spent their afternoons in a converted apartment where high school students and other volunteers would assist them with homework and provide individual attention. The Allencrest Learning Center was a quiet place for mentoring, tutoring, and doing homework, and it provided access to computers and other resources that students may not have had at home. An LHA-funded staffer managed the afterschool program, coordinating tutors and volunteers and developing a curriculum with teachers from the city’s school district.1

Although the learning center improved students’ academic performance, the small apartment was ill-equipped to meet the demand for the program from families in Allencrest and the surrounding neighborhood. The community needed a new facility to serve more children and ensure the center’s long-term success. In 2008, the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development gave LHA a $400,000 grant to construct a new building that would improve the quality of the center’s programs and expand its reach to children throughout Leominster, a working-class city of 41,000 residents. LHA partnered with the Leominster Center for Technical Education Innovation to provide vocational school students with invaluable real-world experience and help make the project financially feasible.2

Design

Over the course of three years, Abacus Architects + Planners managed a design and development process rooted deep within the community. The resulting building reflects the project’s goal: a sustainable, multipurpose community learning space that functions with limited staffing.3

Located on the western edge of Allencrest Apartments, the center physically and socially connects the affordable housing complex to the surrounding neighborhood. The building’s design, with its barn-inspired form, respects the scale and proportion of the adjacent buildings. The 2,000-square-foot interior consists of a single, expansive space that can be arranged to accommodate small groups of students or up to 50 participants at community meetings. Carrel desks along the perimeter of the room allow for individual study or one-on-one tutoring. A semiprivate loft extends into the two-story building volume and a reading room below the loft can be left open to the larger space or enclosed with a sliding door. These subspaces within the larger room create a structured environment for the students and can be monitored by one adult — an important consideration in staffing and designing the facility.4

Another key consideration of the project’s designers was to minimize the center’s impact on the environment. The architects used several techniques to reduce the building’s energy demand, from careful site planning to integrating energy-saving technologies.5 In addition to a high-efficiency boiler that provides radiant floor heating, the center’s design makes use of passive solar energy. During cold winter months, double-height windows along the southern and western elevations maximize solar heat entering the building, and the thickened concrete slab stores heat energy from the sun.6 The roof overhang and a large deciduous tree shade the same exposures in the warm summer months.

A Community Building

The community center would not have been possible without the LHA’s partnership with the Leominster Center for Technical Education Innovation. The design originated from the drawings of drafting students and evolved through meetings with LHA staff and residents of the Allencrest Apartments. Over the course of two school years, 11th and 12th grade students studying to become carpenters, electricians, and plumbers constructed the center under the supervision of instructors, construction managers, and the architects. The project’s construction schedule accommodated the needs of the students, who split their time between the classroom and the building site. The partnership made the project financially feasible and provided dozens of students with hands-on experience. The students were a part of the design process from the earliest stages and were exposed to construction techniques and materials that are not used in typical class projects.7

The center’s construction has created a broad and diverse platform for community engagement. Dozens of local tradesmen volunteered their services, and building suppliers contributed steeply discounted materials to make up for shortfalls in the project budget. Many of the contributions came from graduates of the vocational school who wanted to support the institution that had prepared them for successful careers. As planned, the new facility has enabled the learning center to reach more students.8 Today, approximately 70 children from across the city participate in the center’s afterschool program, nearly doubling its size.9 From its early operations in a public housing apartment through its successful operations today, the center has thrived with the collaboration of housing agency staff, local educators, and hardworking students.



  1. Interview with Eugene Cappocia, executive director, Leominster Housing Authority, 13 September 2013.

  2. Ibid.

  3. Interview with David Eisen and David Pollak, Abacus Architects + Planners, 23 September 2013.

  4. Ibid; internal award documents provided by the American Institute of Architects.

  5. Interview with David Eisen and David Pollak.

  6. Internal award documents provided by the American Institute of Architects.

  7. Interview with David Eisen and David Pollak.

  8. Ibid.

  9. Email correspondence with Margaret St-Laurent, Leominster Housing Authority, 27 September 2013.