What’s Master Planning? Slate Upper School Is a Good Example of the Process

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Early stage master planning for the design and construction of a building or site is a highly collaborative process that puts the project on the right trajectory for success. It involves everything from early budgeting, to coordinating the work of experts like landscape architects and civil engineers, to working sessions with the client.

“Laying the Foundation” for Slate Upper School

In 2018, we developed a design for Slate School, an independent elementary school in North Haven, CT, that sits on a 25-acre parcel that includes open meadow and forest. On the heels of that successful project, school leaders asked us to design a facility for what will be called Slate Upper School, which will offer stimulating, project-based education for students in grades 7-12.

As a critical first step in the project, we began master planning and concept design in early 2020, and are currently seeking regulatory approvals through town Planning and Zoning and Inland Wetlands Commissions.

Collaborating With the Owner and Other Project Contributors

The initial phase of the project encompassed programming and early site concept studies. We worked on these activities in close collaboration with the owner and Milone & MacBroom, an experienced civil engineering and landscape architecture firm.

This work involved defining what sorts of interior and exterior spaces were desired for the school based on factors like the different uses that had to be accommodated, and the sizes of the spaces. Then, we used simple physical and virtual tools to explore various ways of accommodating those needs and arranging the required spaces on the site.

To Remove or Renovate?

One of the defining features of the site for Slate Upper School is an existing church building. Early studies looked at options for removing or keeping the building, as well as options for attached or detached new buildings. Ultimately, the site plan selected calls for maintaining and renovating the church for use as a performing arts venue, and building a new academic facility linked by a central courtyard.

Other key considerations in early master planning included how to optimize the topography of the site. For example, it’s often best to take advantage of existing changes in grade to minimize the amount of earthwork required.

In this case, the master plan focuses on creating a design that will fit into its residential neighborhood while taking advantage of the stunning views of the site’s natural environment, principally the nearby Sleeping Giant State Park.


Moving the Puzzle Pieces

In addition to the “siting” and “massing” of buildings, a certain amount of interior development was necessary during the master planning process. The organization of interior spaces helped inform where certain site elements will be located. For example, we needed to determine the location of outdoor working patios that were “extensions” of the indoor classrooms, and of screened exterior equipment that would be adjacent to mechanical rooms.

We also needed to decide on the composition of windows and doors. Much emphasis was placed on the exterior views captured from various interior spaces, again, trying to capitalize on the amazing natural surroundings of the site.

The master plan and conceptual design were further refined following initial estimates and budget review. Quick modifications were enabled by open and fluid communication between our architectural team, the civil engineering/landscape architecture firm, and the owner.

Collaboration and Flexibility Are Essential to Success

The site for Slate Upper School poses some unique design and construction challenges. Fortunately, collaborative master planning among all stakeholders have so far helped us surmount those challenges.

An iterative approach to the design process has been crucial, as well. All parties have been comfortable with being flexible and incorporating new parameters, information, and ideas into the design as they arise. The result is a comprehensive and cohesive design for an exciting new campus for Slate Upper School, reflecting the innovation and complexity of its curriculum.

What’s the (Master) Plan for Your Next Project?

If you’re considering a new construction or renovation project, we’re happy to talk with you about the full range of services we provide and how we can help you move smoothly from your vision to a detailed master plan and design to a completed project. You can also check out our work on other projects in our online portfolio.

Please contact us at your convenience.