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Hilltop Arts Barn

Hilltop Arts Barn Exterior

Stevens & Associates’ latest project, an arts barn at Hilltop Montessori School, is complete.

The school approached us wanting arts space, a gymnasium, and a multi-use function space. There was an old barn on the property that was a candidate for these needs. After looking at various options, the design team and client decided to save about half the barn with a gut renovation and add on to increase the square footage.

Hilltop Montessori Gymnasium

The result is a building that saves the best features of the historic barn and offers highly functional space for the school. Barn doors pay homage to the original use of the building, and clean, bright finishes inside connect the space with the rest of the school.

Hilltop Arts Barn Exterior 2

Classrooms are in use for music and art classes, and the gymnasium will be a great addition for play time in the winter months. A function space (and theater) just off the gymnasium takes advantage of the spectacular views on the site, and opens onto the gymasium for bigger events.


Brooks House Grand Opening

Brooks House Opening

Stevens & Associates is delighted to announce the grand opening of the Brooks House, a historic restoration and adaptive reuse project that has been 3 years in the making.

The building, a cornerstone of downtown Brattleboro, burned in 2011. A team of investors, including Stevens & Associates founder Bob Stevens, came together to renovate the building to the tune of $24 million. The project included a gut rehab of the building, with apartments on the top floors, space for Community College of Vermont and Vermont Technical College, office space for Oak Meadow (a homeschooling curriculum company), and retail spaces on the ground level. The energy efficiency of the building was significantly upgraded with added insulation, new heating and lighting systems, and a new air-conditioning system. Historic features were preserved even as 21st-century features were added to the building.

In the end, Stevens & Associates and the investment group returned some of the grandeur to a building that was once the most impressive hotel on the East Coast. The lights are once again on, and people are once again flowing through the building.

The SCADpad: Adaptive Reuse of a Different Sort

What to do with an underused parking garage in Atlanta? If you’re a student at SCAD (the Savannah College of Art and Design), you turn it into a village of three, 135-square-foot microhomes called SCADpads, then have students, faculty, and guests live in them. scadpad_sketch


Like a lot of design school projects, the SCADpads are less about practicality and more about design concepts and exploring what’s possible. The pads themselves represent three regions – North America, Asia, and Europe – and are bright and full of funky details. There are plenty of high-end touches, including a Miehl induction cooktop, responsive windows, and smart-phone controlled systems.


There is, however, a kernel of practicality in the idea of a village of microhomes with shared outdoor spaces and a community garden. Take an underutilized space (a parking garage, a vacant lot, an abandoned warehouse) and put small but complete housing units in it. Use those to house students, singles, temporary workers, or the homeless. Bring life and vitality to otherwise dead urban zones, and potentially lower the crime rate (more vibrant streetscapes tend to experience less crime for the simple reason that there are more people around and watching). There’s also potential here for disaster relief housing using space (parking spaces) that isn’t otherwise being used.


To make this viable on a larger scale, however, a few things would probably have to change. There’s not a lot of room in the SCADpads for the occupants’ personalities to shine through. They have little control over the aesthetics of their spaces, and that could be a problem. The pads would need to be portable, too, if they were going to be used as temporary or disaster relief housing. Finally, as with most design school prototype projects, the costs of the pad would need to be brought down. (No more Miehle stovetops!)

As our designer Timberly Hund (who graduated from SCAD) noted, “It’s a great example of adaptive reuse and affordable living and tiny house living. It will be interesting to see how students use the outdoor space, but I imagine it will become a playground!”


We do a lot of adaptive reuse projects here at Stevens & Associates, but most of them involve renovations to historic buildings. This was a good reminder that eventually our modern infrastructure (parking garages) will need the adaptive reuse treatment as well, and will present an opportunity to create vibrant downtown microvillages with plenty of chances for community creation.

Wetland Functions: Education, Erosion, and Water Quality

We’re rounding up our Wetlands series with the final four functions of a wetland. It’s important to Wetland 4remember that wetlands affect all development projects, not just rural development. Wetland areas exist in downtowns, too, or adjacent to them. They also protect our downtowns from damage during storm and flood events.

Exemplary Natural Community: Essentially, this is a category for super-special wetlands that contain rare habitats or species. Dwarf shrub bogs, alpine peatland, and red maple-black gum swamp are some types of these exemplary wetlands. Their function is preservation of species and wetland ecology.

Education and Research: Wetlands are amazing places to Wetland 3learn about and study ecological systems, in part because they are discrete systems with boundaries. Unlike forests, which can range for hundreds or thousands of miles and share fuzzy borders with other ecosystems, wetland species cannot survive outside the specific conditions of a wetland. So scientists can learn a lot about ecosystem interconnectivity.

Erosion Control: Wetlands along streams, rivers, lakes, and ocean shorelines help prevent the loss of soil to erosion during storms and floods. This, in turn, helps prevent damage to human settlements
during those same events. DuriWetland 2ng a hurricane, for example, the roots of wetland plants will hold on to soil even as fast-moving water rushes over it, preventing loss of land and silt damage farther downstream.

Surface and Ground Water Protection: Wetlands act as gigantic sponges for pollutants, soaking them up and detoxifying our water supplies. This is true for sediments, chemicals, and excess nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous). This keeps our water clean and prevents problems elsewhere in the ecosystem.

Photos: Vermont Wetlands Program

Wetland Services: Aesthetics, Floods, and Endangered Species

 800px-Northern_Map_Turtle,_closeupWe’ve been talking about wetlands for the last couple of weeks, and continue this week with the next three functions and values defined by the Vermont Wetlands Program

Open Space and Aesthetics: In Vermont, we very much appreciate the value beautiful, open spaces bring to the state. They are a major tourist draw, and tourism is a major element of the Vermont economy. Total tourist spending in the state totals $2.2 billion and generates 23% of employment in the state. In parts of the state with more development, the open space provided by wetlands is more valuable.

Storm and Flood Water Storage: In the wake of Hurricane Irene, we may consider the flood-mitigating effects of wetlands to be their most important asset. During snow melt, rain storms, or hurricanes, wetlands can temporarily store excess water, keeping it from wl_flood3bflooding developed land or lessening the severity of a flood. After the storm, the wetlands slowly release the stored water, lessening the likelihood of downstream flooding.

Endangered and Rare Species: According to the Vermont Wetlands Program, up to 43% of the nation’s endangered and threatened species rely on wetlands in some way for survival. These species are dwindling, largely because of human development. Without fully understanding how these species interact with each other and what they contribute to the ecology of a place, we cannot understand what might be lost with their extinction.



Top: Map Turtle, Wikimedia Commons User Dger, CC license

Bottom: Wetland during/after a rain event, Vermont Wetlands Program

Wetland Services: Habitat and Recreation

Moose. (Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service

We spend a lot of time in this office figuring out how to work around and protect wetlands during construction projects, for good reason: wetlands provide a host of services that are valuable to both animals and humans.

The Vermont Wetlands Program recognizes 10 functions and values for wetlands. This blog looks at the first three: Wildlife Habitat, Fish Habitat, and Recreation and Economics.

Wildlife Habitat: Wetlands provide habitat (a place to live and food to eat) for many species of plants and animals. According to the Vermont Wetlands Program, wetlands have a very high rate of plant productivity, meaning they are very good at turning energy from the sun into food for animals to eat. These plants also provide good hiding spots for many animals, especially migratory birds. Why is all of this important? We as humans depend on a robust ecosystem to provide the resources we need to survive. Without it, our needs – from clean air and water to timber and food – would not be met.

Streams can have wetlands around them, or connect wetlands to larger lakes. (Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service)

Fish Habitat: In addition to plants, birds, and other animals living in the wetlands, fish live and breed there. The Northern Pike spawns in wetlands off Lake Champlain, for example; a healthy population of these fish is required for commercial and recreational fishing to continue. Not all wetlands provide fish habitat, but the ones that do are linked to our ability to continue to catch and eat fish.

Recreation and Economics: Wetlands are not only beautiful, they are full of species that people like to hunt, catch, and photograph. According to the Vermont Wetlands Program, the photography of wetland-dependent bird species entire almost 50 million people to spend $10 billion annually, nationwide. And waterfowl hunters spend over $600 million annually nationwide. That’s big business, especially in a tourism-dependent state like Vermont. Wetlands also provide timber, fish and shellfish, blueberries, cranberries, and wild rice (not all of these are harvested in Vermont, of course).


(Photos: US Fish and Wildlife Service)

Why Care About Wetlands?

Cattail (Photograph from Wikimedia Commons user Diane 9247)

One of the first things we do when we start designing a site (whether for a building, parking lot, or green space) is determine if there are wetlands on the property. If we think there might be, we hire a wetlands consultant to tell us exactly where the wetlands are and what kind they are.

Why? Well, it’s the law. But we’re doing more than just meeting a legal requirement. We’re trying to ensure that the wetlands in our state are preserved so they can continue serving valuable functions for wildlife and humans.

The Vermont Wetlands Program recognizes 10 functions and values for wetlands:

  • Wildlife Habitat
  • Fish Habitat
  • Recreation and Economics
  • Open Space and Aesthetics
  • Storm and Flood Water Storage
  • Endangered and Rare Species
  • Exemplary Communities
  • Education and Research
  • Erosion Control
  • Water Quality Protection
Marsh Marigold (Photograph from Wikimedia Commons user Plismo)

We will tackle each of these functions over the next several weeks, but the short version is this: wetlands are valuable not only in ecological terms, but also in economic terms. They save our buildings and communities from flood damage and mitigate the flood damage we do get. They filter water before it gets to our rivers and wells. They provide habitat for animals and plants, and draw tourists to the state.

So how can you tell if you have a wetland on your property? The Wildlife Program has a great guide  for landowners. You want to look for three things: water, wetland plants, and wetland soil. If there’s a wet, marshy spot or a pond or just a spot where trees and plants often fall over, you might have a wetland. If there are cattails, sedges, or other wetland plants, or if trees have shallow roots, you might have a wetland. If you dig a hole and it fills with water, or if the soil is especially dark or streaked with red, or smells like rotten eggs, you might have a wetland.

The only way to know for sure, though, is to contact a wetland scientist.







The Retreat Farm: Playing With Conceptual Design

When the Windham Foundation approached Stevens & Associates about coming up with concepts for redeveloping the Retreat Farm property out on Route 30, we knew if would be a fun project. At this stage of design, which you could call the “dream” stage, there are few limits to what you can explore. We keep budgets in mind, but we also encourage our clients to dream big. Sometimes, a design that seems impossibly expensive will come to fruition through creativity and innovation.

On to the details: for the Windham Foundation, we looked at repurposing existing farm buildings to create a retail and manufacturing cluster to add to Grafton Village Cheese’s existing facility. We looked at adding parking to the site and making it easier for pedestrians to enter and explore the site and access the Retreat Trails toward the back of the property.

Most exciting for us is the possibility of turning Route 30 into a boulevard, with a bike and walking path separated from the road by a planted strip. A planted strip would also separate the traffic lanes. Both of these things lead to better pedestrian and cyclist safety, since they visually cue drivers to slow down and watch for traffic. Such a boulevard could become a grand entrance to Brattleboro from Route 30.

It’s important to note that this is just a first pass at a conceptual design, and there is a lot of hard work before any of it would become reality. Further study will tell us where the wetlands are on the property and what effect development would have on them. It will also tell us if there are archaeological resources that need to be protected, and how best to control stormwater. We will look more closely at the buildings and what it would take to renovate them and adapt them to new uses. And then we will look at how much all of these ideas will cost.




Pedestrian Safety is Good for Business

Smart Growth American and the National Complete Streets Coalition have issued a report, entitled “Dangerous By Design 2014,” looking at the causes and frequency of pedestrian deaths and injuries on the nation’s roadways. It’s worth a look, especially in light of recent pedestrian accidents in the Brattleboro area.

Many of the hallmarks of “dangerous design” are present in our region, including state highways and thoroughfares with pedestrians and cyclists sharing roads designed for high vehicle speeds. (Think Route 9 between Marlboro and Brattleboro, or Route 30 coming into town.)

There’s a ton of data in the report, but what struck us was a small case study about West Jefferson, North Carolina. Apparently, the main street of the town is also a state highway, which had been designed for large trucks and high vehicle speeds.

Working with the state, the town eliminated traffic signals and replaced them with four-way stop signs, painted high-visibility crosswalks, increased on-street parking, and extending curbs to lessen the length of pedestrian crossings. Traffic slowed and people started walking again.

Within a few years, new stores opened up in previously vacant storefronts (dropping vacancies from 33 to 5). The downtown renewal prompted $500,000 in renovations and investment, the opening of 10 new businesses , creation of 55 new jobs, and a 19% increase in tourist visits.

The point is this: pedestrian safety is good for business, good for downtowns, good for the grand list, good for just about everyone and everything. There are several plans for the Brattleboro area that incorporate these measures; let’s work to get them built.


(Photos from



Welcoming Ham Hodgman

We’d like to welcome Ham Hodgman to the team here at Stevens & Associates. Ham worked for us quite some time ago, and then moved away down South. But now he’s back, bringing his civil engineering expertise with him.

To quote his resume:

“Hamilton (Ham) Hodgman has worked as a civil engineer in Vermont, North Carolina, and South Carolina for over a decade. His work has included schematic design, design development, state and local permitting, and construction phases for residential and commercial construction. He is well-versed in public presentations and client relations.

In addition to his civil engineering and design work, Ham has extensive experience providing construction services, including technical review, geotechnical engineering, inspections, and materials testing on projects for industrial, institutional, and commercial facilities clients.”