Architect: Schwartz/Silver Architects — Robert H. Silver, FAIA, principal in charge; Mark Schatz, AIA, design principal; Randolph Meilklejohn, AIA, principal; Angela Hyatt, AIA, interior design principal; Nelson Liu, project manager; Michele Baldock, Assoc. AIA, project designer; Peter Kleiner, AIA, Philip Chen, AIA, Susan Morgan, Richard Lee, team
CLIENT: City of Boston: Boston Public Schools, Boston Public Library, and Boston Centers for Youth & Families

SIZE: 65,000 square feet (new); 144,000 square feet (renovation)
COST: $37.5 million

METAL PANELS: Morin/Metecno; Alucobond
GLASS: Oldcastle Glass; Solera; Vanceva
ROOFING: Tremco (built-up); Sarnafil (elastomeric)
PANELING: Plyboo (bamboo)
CEILINGS: Armstrong; Tectum
Paints, stains: Sherwin-Williams, Valspar

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CASE STUDY: Jeremiah E. Burke High School, Boston, Massachusetts, Schwartz/Silver Architects

By Beth Broome

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The renovation of the Jeremiah E. BURKE HIGH SCHOOL in the Dorchester section of Boston had been in planning for years when Mayor Thomas M. Menino stepped in and scrapped the project. A nearby branch library was in need of updating and expansion, so why not combine the two programs? Going back to the drawing board, the city brought in Boston-based Schwartz/Silver Architects and charged them with renovating the 1934 school and expanding it to include a community center and public library. The result is the first new facility to exemplify the mayor’s Community Learning Initiative, a collaborative effort by Boston Centers for Youth & Families, Boston Public Schools, and the Boston Public Library to promote education and literacy across the city.

The front entry level is 28 feet below the elevation of the entry on the other side, allowing a mezzanine to be inserted above the public library’s main floor.
Photo: © Alan Karchmer

The new wing facing Geneva Avenue gleams like a beacon of possibility in its rugged environment of auto-repair shops and vacant lots. “This is one of the toughest streets in Boston,” says design principal Mark Schatz, AIA, referring to the area’s high crime and murder rates, “but they have this beautiful Art Deco high school.” Schwartz/Silver used a light hand in the renovation, restoring exterior masonry, updating interiors and systems, and expanding the cafeteria. The program called for a minor expansion of the school’s gym, but the architects envisioned a regulation basketball court as part of the new wing. To bring the public library and community center down to street level, they located the gym on the top floor and sandwiched the high school library below. Connections between the program elements were made flexible so facilities could be shared after school hours.

While incorporating granite and red brick on the new building to tie it to the original school, Schwartz/Silver distinguished the steel-framed volume by cladding the gym level in aluminum, topping it with a clerestory to lighten the overall mass. Expanses of glass prompted pushback from the community, which was concerned about drive-by shootings. But a luminous, transparent volume was critical to the goal of creating an open and inviting facility. The community eventually gave the nod, and the architects created a sense of enclosure with a low planter along the building’s front, and situated the children’s room and teen spaces away from windows.

The school library is linked to the old building by a glass-and-aluminum bridge and can be accessed from the public library below by a long stair running through its center. The libraries function separately until the end of the school day, when the school library opens to the public. Similarly, the gym connects to the old building at the third level. It is accessible to the public (once the school connection is closed off) via a stair by the community center entrance.

With a flexible and user-friendly design, Schwartz/Silver has effectively managed circulation and different levels of controlled access between the various programs in the old and new buildings. And the architects have done so while maintaining transparency and openness and keeping security concerns at the forefront. With this project, they are helping to make the mayor’s vision for shared resources and community building a reality.



(Top) The architects used colorful laminated glass on both the ground floor branch library and the school library one level up to add a playfulness to the facade, and so the spaces would be perceived as a single entity. (Bottom) Aluminum clads the upper gym level of the extension. Red brick, used sparingly around the community center’s street entrance, acknowledges the original building.
Photos: © Alan Karchmer

1) Entrance 2) Lobby 3) “Living Room” 4) Children’s room 5) Meeting 6) Circulation 7) Staff workroom 8) Office 9) Multipurpose 10) Restroom, 11) Seating 12) Collections 13) Career center 14) Teachers’ planning 15) Media center 16) Studio production 17) Editing suite 18) Group study 19) Gymnasium 20) Mezzanine 21) Weight room 22) Locker room 23) Storage/mechanical 24) Auditorium 25) Corridor

A long run of stairs, with bright laminated glass sides, connects the public library’s main floor and mezzanine to the school library at the top, and boldly announces the flexibility of the space. (top); The high school library computers are a valuable resource for the community after school hours. (2nd from top); The regulation basketball court employs two concrete floor slabs: one structural, the other on isolation springs to deaden sound. (3rd from top); The Art Deco auditorium in the original building was restored to its former state. (4th from top); Visible from the street, the public library’s “Living Room” is an emblem of the new facility’s openness and accessibility. Sustainable systems and finishes were used throughout (above).
Photos: © Alan Karchmer