Our work at Miss Porter’s School was featured in this month’s edition of Landscape Architecture and Specifier News. The work transformed a former grist mill, most recently a restaurant, into the new Admissions building for Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, CT.
See Full article here (page 14)
A building which stands the test of time may house multiple uses over decades and centuries. The new Admissions building at Miss Porter’s School is a prime example of an old building being valued for its heritage and being brought back to life by integrating it into its contemporary surroundings. Originally a grist mill on the east bank of the Farmington River, the building was built in 1690 to process grain for the Town. Heavy timber framing, wood shingles, a gabled roof, and piers which extended into a bypass channel of the river has captivated many over the past 300 years. The structure originally housed the Grist Mill, eventually was sold and turned into a residence. Then it was transformed again into a series of boutique shops such as gold leafing, fabric stores, a gallery, a bookstore, and small café. In its most recent iteration, it was the site of a very successful Restaurant called the Grist Mill. In 2012 the restaurant moved to another Town and by 2014 the property was sold and donated to Miss Porter’s School, which bordered the property to the East, West, and South.
Located in Farmington, Connecticut, since 1843, the campus is centered just south of the Farmington River. Miss Porter’s School is a day and boarding school for roughly 350 girls grades 9- 12. The campus is integrated into the Town of Farmington; many of the streets connect to other neighborhoods surrounding the campus. The campus itself retains the Town character with stately homes, open lawns, and connective walks. Prior to 2014, the Admissions Building was located along Green Street, with minimal access and parking. With the donation of the Grist Mill on the banks of the Farmington River, Miss Porter’s undertook the renovation of the building to transform it into their new Admissions Building.
Many of the historic features were preserved in the renovation. Original beams and much of the structure was left exposed on the interior to showcase the building’s heritage. Updates in the interior included new energy efficient windows, salvaged wood flooring, updating the heating and cooling systems, and updating the restrooms and offices. The exterior of the site was transformed from one continuous asphalt parking lot into an arrival garden with an accessible walk. Monumental granite stairs connect the building’s new main entrance to an upper parking lot. A unitized paver walk connects ADA spaces to the front entrance. A raised planter filled with groundcovers, bulbs, and shrubs frame views out to the river. The paved plaza is sized to hold events. An ornamental rail is repurposed and expanded at the edge of the terrace. Adjacent to the plaza, a large lawn sized for event tents will serve as a destination for School celebrations. Between the upper and lower lots, a steep slope of evergreen junipers provide a contrast to the warm purples and red tones of the pavers. The plantings at the school have been selected to change throughout the seasons, and showcase color and texture during school events.
The final product looks so simple, but looks are deceiving! The Landscape and hardscape floats over a bevy of utilities–each carrying their own clearance and protection requirements. Underneath this refined landscape, lie a bevy of existing utilities serving the town. The placement of steps, walls, and pavements had to be orchestrated to avoid impacting the Town’s sewer main just 18” below grade. As a project within the floodplain, each square foot of fill for the accessible walk had to be replaced with compensatory storage on site. Overall the project reduces the square footage of impervious surface onsite—transforming much of the asphalt into permeable paving and garden areas. Several stormcepter treatment devices treat sediment and oil coming from the upslope parking lots and improve water quality downstream.
The best time of day to visit the Grist Mill is just before sunset. Herons can be seen fishing in the Farmington River below. Trees are backlit with golden dappled light from the west. The space feels quiet and restful as the sound of moving water fills the space with a backdrop of white noise for one’s thoughts. Sitting in one of the Adirondack chairs, feet in lawn or on the plaza, one feels grounded—with the anchoring of the slope to your back, and a prospecting view of the river beyond as it carves its way through historic channels heading east.