New School Serves Students with Learning Challenges

The Otto Specht School new Center for Learning / Rendering by Charles Rose Architects

Chestnut Ridge, NY – Charles Rose Architects (CRA), of Somerville, Mass., announced that design development and permitting are complete on the Otto Specht School Center for Learning in Chestnut Ridge.

The school is dedicated to providing an inclusive academic, vocational and artistic Waldorf education to students and young adults with learning challenges and developmental delays. Designed by CRA, the new 21,000sf Center for Learning will be the latest addition to the Threefold Educational Foundation’s existing 200-acre campus.

Sited on donated land atop a wooded slope, the school is adjacent to an existing K-12 Waldorf School, an elder care facility, community gardens, a medicinal garden and the nation’s first biodynamic farm, where students participate in gardening, farming and animal husbandry.

Both the architecture and landscape are integral to the pedagogy of the program and are intended to remove obstacles to learning that are specific to its students. Recognizing the needs of both children and young adults, the building is designed to nurture the development of each student’s confidence, self-knowledge and independence.

Organized in two curved wings, the school features specialized classrooms: a computer room, science lab, visual arts spaces, music rooms, library, a performance and eurhythmy hall, therapy rooms, a vocational kitchen and craft studios. A large central gathering space is nestled between the two volumes and is designed to serve as the heart of the community.

Therapeutic movement addresses the multitude of dysregulation experienced by individuals with autism and learning disabilities. The curvilinear design of the common hallways was imagined to encourage flowing movement as students transition from one activity to the next. In contrast, simple rectilinear classrooms are designed to provide safe, predictable spaces that promote spatial orientation and grounding for focused learning. For those struggling with transition, the coherence between environment and activity is intended to support a successful life and learning experience.

The center features a LEED Platinum design, and the building is net-zero and sequesters carbon. CRA’s design services were provided pro bono.