Post pandemic: Learning outdoor pavilions on the horizon at four Lawrence elementary schools

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Learning outdoor pavilions are inching towards a reality at the four public elementary schools in Lawrence.

Lawrence Township Public School district officials presented the plans for the outdoor classrooms for a courtesy review at the Planning Board’s Feb. 6 meeting.

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The board granted an informal approval of the plans. Public entities do not need formal Planning Board approval.

“Each of the four elementary schools will have a ‘learning pavilion,'” School Business Administrator Thomas Eldridge said. “School district officials have not ruled out adding a learning pavilion at the Lawrence Intermediate School in the future.”

The concept for open air pavilions that would serve as classrooms grew out of the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down the schools, Eldridge said. When the schools reopened, some districts coped with the issue of social distancing by holding classes outdoors. Children also ate lunch outside.

Eldridge said school districts received federal funds to address the impact of COVID-19 on the public schools. Some school districts used the money to pay for tents, but the Lawrence Township school district is taking a different approach, he said.

“We want a permanent structure for outdoor use for many years to come. It will be paid for with (federal) Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds (ESSER),” Eldridge said.

“The pavilion is not too different from what you see in the parks. It is an open structure with a metal roof. It can accommodate 50 children. It will be a multi-use structure. If we have to do social distancing, we can do it,” he said.

The pavilions would be used in the daytime and teachers would bring out tables and chairs to the pavilion as needed, Eldridge said, adding “the pavilions would be barrier-free,” and they are also “being designed for infrared heating in cooler weather.”

Project architect Ron Schwenke walked the Planning Board through the design and location of each of the learning pavilions at the four elementary schools.

At the Ben Franklin Elementary School on Princeton Pike, the rectangular learning pavilion would be placed at the rear of the school, Schwenke said. It would be at least 20 feet away from the school.

The pavilion at the Eldridge Park School on Lawn Park Avenue is an L-shaped structure, Schwenke said. It would be near the rear of the school building.

The Lawrenceville Elementary School’s pavilion is a circular shape and would face the school. It would be located on the Philips Avenue side of the building. The school is between Philips Avenue and Craven Lane.

At the Slackwood Elementary School on Princeton Pike, the rectangular learning pavilion would be placed at the rear of the school, Schwenke said. It would be placed next to the modular classroom building.

“The design of each one is unique. The greatest challenge has been siting them. We had to find the best location,” Schwenke said.

Planning Board member Philip Duran praised the learning pavilions.

“I love the concept. I wish we had it when I was a kid,” Duran said.

Schwenke agreed. He said he likes outdoor structures, which is something “we should have been doing a long time ago.”

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