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BROOKFIELD — Taylor Albert starts her career teaching fourth grade English language arts at Candlewood Lake Elementary School in Brookfield as it opens Tuesday for the first day of classes.
Albert said last week she’s looking forward to helping her students transition smoothly into their new environment at the new school building. She said she hopes “to get to know them, build good routines, (and) develop relationships with them and their families” over the coming weeks.
She added that she won’t feel like such a “newbie” at Candlewood, though, because everyone — staff and students — will be new to the school, which was just built.
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Candlewood Lake Elementary School, at 100 Candlewood Road, is incorporating students from the now closed Center Elementary School and Huckleberry Hill Elementary School as well as the fifth-graders from Whisconier Middle School.
About 1,100 students total will attend the new 135,000-square-foot school.
The two-level school, which cost $78 million to build, includes central air conditioning, heated floors in the kindergarten and preschool classrooms, interactive SMART boards and outdoor amphitheater classrooms.
On a recent tour, Brookfield Schools Superintendent John Barile said Candlewood Lake Elementary School is “a collaboration” of ideas from all the professionals who will be using the new school.
“Over the six years of planning, we had teacher groups of different grade levels, we had the nurses, we had the custodian, we had the professionals, special education educators … we had all these different groups together to get their input on what they want in their school,” Barile said.
'School within a school'
The new school offers an open floor plan, with bright and airy spaces and a water theme throughout to represent Candlewood Lake.
The classroom wings are themed by grade to represent a variety of ecosystems, including ponds, rainforests, oceans and grasslands, with images of animals on both the carpets and walls throughout the building.
Additionally, images from the town, including the Happy Landings windmill, a birch tree forest, Hop Brook and Lake Lillinonah are on display in the hallways.
The layout is a “school-within-a-school” model, Barile said.
“That was really the whole point of what we did,” he said. “We have our older kids upstairs (grades 3 to 5) and pre-k to (grade) 2 downstairs.”
Additional features include soundproof music rooms and rehearsal rooms for drama and music productions.
“The kids can just come right out to the staging area. This is also for assemblies,” said Barile, adding that students can take small group band or music lessons in the space.
Additionally, every classroom has an 86-inch interactive SMART Board, just like “every single classroom in our school district,” Barile said.
The SMART Board helps students understand math concepts, said Shawn Knapp, who is teaching kindergarten.
“For example, a student may even be doing a lesson and you can actually watch students come up to the board and manipulate things. So if they’re working on math and they’re using little bears to count out 10, they can actually come up here and move the bear over,” Knapp said.
Additionally, the gym boasts is an interactive LU system, Barile said.
“It has double projectors and it can actually project games to the floor so kids could run to it and throw things at it — it would actually sense kids mastering the particular games. A couple hundred games can be used for physical education as well, and math games and other games,” he said of the LU playground system.
The school also has a designated maker space for STEM projects, Assistant Principal Danielle Rudl said.
“It’s an area where students can work on projects that are STEM-related — science and biology, engineering and math, all combined,” said Rudl, who was previously assistant principal at Huckleberry Hill Elementary School. “So really, the sky’s the limit in terms of projects like robotics or coding.”
Dennis Petrino, president of Brookfield’s Education Association, is teaching science at Candlewood. After teaching most recently at Whisconier Middle School, Petrino said he transferred to Candlewood because he was so impressed with the new school.
“(I’m) super-excited just to see all the implementation that they have going on here for the RULER approach (a social-emotional learning technique developed at Yale). … and just the nature of the classroom set up and the warm feeling the school was built behind,” Petrino said.
“The concept really grabbed me and … I really wanted to be part of that,” he said.
'A community school'
Candlewood Lake Elementary School has a full generator, which will allow it to serve as an emergency shelter as needed for the west side of town, Barile said. Completion of the new building was named as one of Barile's top accomplishments when Brookfield’s Board of Education unanimously approved his new contract in July.
Currently, Brookfield High School serves as the town’s emergency shelter.
Additionally, the gymnasium at Candlewood Lake Elementary also contains locker rooms “that are really not for the students necessarily, but more for the emergency shelter,” he said.
The school’s cafeteria will also be used as a polling place.
“You can shower, you can get food here, be taken care of … have a nice safe place to be, so it’s a community school,” he said.
Years in the making
Construction of the new school building was approved in a town referendum in 2019, and construction began in March 2021. It was constructed on the same property as Huckleberry Hill Elementary School, which was built in 1963.
The new school was originally slated for completion by the middle of the 2023-24 school year, but work was delayed due to supply chain issues.
Huckleberry Hill Elementary School will be demolished, and the site will be landscaped with new parking.
The town has not decided the future of the vacated Center Elementary School, which was built in 1938. It had been the only completely wooden school building left operating in the state of Connecticut.