Erected in 1934 and embedded within the urban fabric of one of the poorest cities in the U.S., the Amanda Stout School was a badly deteriorated, two-story brick structure in urgent need of major renovations...

Reading School District – Amanda E. Stout & Benners Court

Erected in 1934 and embedded within the urban fabric of one of the poorest cities in the U.S., the Amanda Stout School was a badly deteriorated, two-story brick structure in urgent need of major renovations. Overcrowding, disrepair, outdated building systems, and a lack of outdoor play space prompted the Reading School District to commission comprehensive renovations and additions to the existing 75,000 sf building. Special Education, Remedial Reading Intervention, and English Language Acquisition programs exacerbated the increasing need for dedicated instruction areas. The new facility has a PA Department of Education approved capacity of 1,250 students with an average full-time classroom size of 24 children. The project includes extensive renovations to the existing structure and three large scale additions.

The original structure occupies half of a city block in the heart of a residential neighborhood. It had supported a student enrollment of 750 Pre-K through 5th Grade children. The new expanded site incorporates the annexation of “Benners Court,” a former half-street flanked by small row houses and tight alleyways. The work was executed over five consecutive phases during a period of 27 months while the building was fully occupied. The first phase incorporated the construction of the additions; one along a primary street front designed to agree with the aesthetic and materiality of the existing school; another within the Benners Court area to provide color, vibrancy, durability, and functionality; and an elevated exterior Play Deck/Roof Garden located between the three building masses. Fifty percent of the Play Deck is comprised of recycled rubber play surface and the other is intensively planted garden area. At the conclusion of the first phase, a portion of the students were relocated to temporary swing space within the classrooms in the new additions, facilitating the renovation of the vacated existing classrooms. This was repeated to complete the balance of the renovation requirements. Resting on pilotis, the overtly modern Benners Court addition occupies the most compact footprint available at the interior of the city block. The additions encompass two new parking areas; one covered by Benners Court 2nd floor classrooms and one covered by the 14,000 sf elevated Play Deck. Parking capacity was nearly doubled to 100 spaces, 84 of which are off-street, covered, and secure.

The project integrates a significant number of sustainable design strategies from each of the five primary LEED certification categories, though the District chose to not pursue LEED designation status. Noteworthy environmentally conscious features include: redevelopment of existing degraded site and brownfield; secure bicycle storage; reduced heat island effect; a groundwater capture system serving toilets; water conservation measures; daylight harvesting/dimming illumination system; high performance glazing and window systems; enhancements to the thermal efficiency of the building envelope; recycled and reclaimed construction materials; salvage and recycling during construction; compliance with stringent VOC requirements; high performance HVAC systems and commissioning; roof and grade level gardens that filter and control stormwater; low-maintenance plantings; minimized light pollution through photometric analysis and new LED site illumination. The building design re-configures circulation in a manner that facilitates evening educational programs for the community at the Media Center and Roof Garden.

Renovations to the existing building include historic restoration of existing brick and clay tile masonry, cast stone panels, terrazzo, plaster moldings, light fixtures, and oak wood doors. Existing terra cotta tiles were reused to construct new corridors connecting the additions with the existing building. A fountain feature, constructed of handcrafted “faience tiles,” was restored. Faience tiles have characteristic variations in the face, edges, and glaze that give a handcrafted decorative effect. The restoration included tiles depicting nursery rhyme characters and a stained glass window depicting “The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe.” The existing main entry doors in the vestibule and lobby were replaced with new doors that recall the historic scale and frame profiles of the original doors, while providing modern hardware and new electronic security features. Existing classroom windows were returned to their original proportions, with venting awning sashes and extra deep soffit recesses to allow natural daylight to once again pour through fritted transom glass.


Reading School District
800 Washington Street
Reading, PA 19601

Reading School District – Amanda E. Stout & Benners Court
Location: Reading, PA | Year Completed: 2013
Construction Cost: $23.8M (completed $2.2M under budget) | FF&E: $755,000 | Project Size: 135,000 sqft
Services: Predesign/Basic Architectural Services/Interior Design/Cost Estimating

LEED certification not pursued at Owner’s request – significant sustainable design initiatives incorporated into project

The 2013-‘14 school year showed the largest gains in student academic performance of any of the (19) Reading School District learning facilities. 75.7% of AES students met or surpassed state requirements for math and English achievement; marking a 23.4% increase in one year (14.8% was the next highest percentage increase).

Professional Recognition:

Urban Renewal School of the Year – 2014 US Green Buildings Council Central PA Chapter
Special Citation – 2013 AIA Eastern Pennsylvania Design Award
Historic Preservation Awards, Public & Institutional Properties – 2014 Preservation Pennsylvania
Willard G. “Bill” Rouse III – Inaugural Award for Excellence – 2014 Urban Land Institute/Philadelphia

Photo Credit: Jeff Totaro