Norton Commons Elementary School Breaks Ground

Voice Tribune interview with Principal-In-Charge, Patrick Blackburn AIA about the Norton Commons planning process:

It’s just walls right now, but construction on the new Norton Commons Elementary School has begun on schedule, and Patrick Blackburn, the principal architect on the project, says there have been no delays despite intense summer rains.

Blackburn, who has twenty years’ experience designing private and public schools, says this one posed some unique challenges. The new school had to be integrated into the new urban infrastructure of the Norton Commons community in which smaller streets, alleys and parks abound.

The school’s brick façade and window details are deliberately similar in style to the buildings in the town center. “You know it’s a public building when you look at it,” Blackburn says.    

Norton Commons Elementary posed two further architectural challenges. By design, it connects to the next door YMCA, which will share the new school’s gymnasium.

Norton Commons is also being constructed on a smaller space than most other schools in Blackburn’s experience. “It is a small site,” says Blackburn. “We had to get a variance from the Kentucky Board of Education.”

The parking lot will be smaller, but Blackburn says that will not be a problem because of the availability of street parking.

Beyond that, there are challenges to building any school. Blackburn says he has incorporated as much color as possible to make it interesting to children. Safety is also a factor in a school’s design.

“Security is a big issue now,” says Blackburn. “Most of the building is viewable from the office.”

New Elem Norton Commons west15th District PTA President Heather Wampler says the new school is needed because the population of east Louisville has grown and is expected to continue growing. The new school will prevent crowding at other schools “so class sizes can stay at a reasonable number,” Wampler says. Norton Commons is scheduled to open for business August 2016, i.e. at the start of the next school year.

The new school will have 24 classrooms for kindergarten through fifth grade, eight early childhood classrooms, plus a music room, art room, library and computer lab. Special features include geothermal heating and cooling, solar heated water, occupancy sensors and audio enhancement in the classrooms, according to Stephanie Bateman, Jefferson County Public Schools Director of Communications.

The total cost of the building is $17,200,000, and Jefferson County’s Board of Education predicts that there will be about 400 K-5 students in the inaugural class. The school’s capacity is 600 students. Parents within Jefferson County school cluster 10 will have the option to send their children to Norton Commons. Cluster 10 includes Chancey, Goldsmith, Stopher, Middletown and Bowen elementary schools.

Jefferson County Public School’s Board was almost unanimous in voting for the erection of the new school. Board Member Diane Porter was alone in voting against it. She is on record as believing there is sufficient room at other schools.

Norton Commons Elementary may not necessarily be called “Norton Commons Elementary” when the children enter it around a year from now. The school board offered community members an opportunity to suggest school names. As of this writing, the name has not been announced, but it has been narrowed down to three choices. The school may be named after Jack Crowner, a Louisville broadcaster, or Steve Tyra, a long-time county principal. Or it may retain the name “Norton Commons.”