Upper School’s Upcoming Renovations and Plans for Expansion
Mira Henry ‘24 and Mollie Kemp ‘23
If you haven’t already heard, the Upper School is going to go through a couple of changes in the next few years. Through a five-year-long relationship the school has formed with St. Andrews United Methodist Church, an agreement was reached that benefits both parties. While the church sold three acres of land to St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes, they will retain one acre on which to build their new church that will be funded by St. Stephens’ purchase of the remaining land. St. Stephens’s and St. Agnes’ new developments don’t end there as they have just announced that the Upper School will undergo renovations to add a new science and art wing, dining hall, as well as a center for students to hang out.
Head of School, Mrs. Adams explained the significance of the school’s new land, “It's appealing because it's the only large adjacent piece of property that could provide a site for additional building, right on all three of our other campuses, there aren't pieces of land that you could purchase that would be able to facilitate a new building.“ Essentially, the land was an opportunity that wouldn’t come by often but also opened up many possibilities for what could actually be built there.
Mrs. Adams commented that “in the short term it’s going to provide us some additional parking” which was a “pressure point in the community.” It’ll also double the access points that are available to actually commute to the Upper School. With the new land connecting to Howard Street, students could just walk across Kelleher field instead of using St. Stephens Road- currently, the only road that leads to the school.
Next, in a poll taken this February, students had the chance to offer their thoughts on what should be done with the new land. According to the results, out of 18 responses, 37% of the students thought that a pool or ice rink would be the most beneficial. Codie Campbell ‘23 mentions that her friends on the swim team “always talk about how annoying it is to have to go off campus every day for practices.”
Also, 25% responded that a new Middle School should be built. One supporter of this idea, Mary Carnell ‘22, explained the pros of having the Middle School close. “The school is constantly trying to integrate programs across the three campuses and having the Upper and Middle Schools so close together would go a long way towards that goal. The Middle School as it is right now is ugly, cramped, and nothing special. Building a new, updated, more functional building would be important to the school's goal of retaining students through and beyond middle school.”
Finally, one person answered that a community garden would impact the community the most because it would provide donations to the local homeless shelter and students could also volunteer to get community service hours. Elinor West ‘21 argues that, “A community center or a nature center would be amazing for the students to have. A community center would be an open space for students to gather and have meetings—maybe large affinity group meetings that aren’t held in the cramped black box or club meetings. A nature center could also help us understand how to care for the environment effectively.”
Apart from this new purchase, the Upper School will be going through some renovations. Currently, the plan is to remove the dining hall, science wing, and Perkins courtyard. These will be replaced with a new dining hall, new science, art, and general-purpose classrooms as well as a Student Commons.
Ms. Elkins, the UpperSchool 2D art teacher talked about how excited she is about the art room relocation. She said “The plans are fantastic. In addition to state-of-the-art facilities, the architects tapped into the southwest views, creating even more experiences to bring nature and the outdoors into our curriculum. The arts are integral to life as a Saint. When the US art students are collaborating, creative energy exudes from the studios! Right now, we’re a little tucked away. By relocating the facilities next to the Student Commons, our studios and exhibits will be physically and socially connected to the hub of the school.”
Mrs. Adams explained how this decision came together, “In 2014, the Board of Governors did what's called a strategic plan. And that strategic plan set six major goals for the future of the school. And one of those was to assess and evaluate our three campuses. And so we spent a couple of years really evaluating and looking at all three campuses, looking at what needed to be updated, what opportunities there were. And so at the end of that process, the Upper School campus was prioritized in terms of the next step in our renovation.”
The Board’s main goals in the renovation were to create a space for students to collaborate and hang out as a community. Next, the science classrooms were the last to be updated, so that was a must on the list. Many students and teachers expressed the desire for art and science classrooms to be closer in order for cross-curricular work. Finally, as Ms. Adams puts it, the dining hall is“ not large enough. It's not welcoming. And it doesn't provide a great space for us to host events as well, in addition to the day-to-day activities. So we wanted to update the dining facility to provide students with the opportunity to have a great gathering space for dining with each other.”
The real plans for this project began in late 2017 through early 2018, so it has been carefully planned and thought through by a lot of voices. Now the school is just waiting for approval from the city.
Many parents and teachers were concerned about how this expansion would be funded and were relieved to learn that it would be funded through fundraising. Ms. Adams says “in order for us to build this, we have to be successful in our fundraising. And so we are working on a campaign right now for this project. And so the timing of construction is going to completely depend upon the success of our fundraising.”
Currently, if fundraising is successful the earliest ground would break is May of 2022 and work would be done through the summer, following school year, and the next summer. So the total process is about a year and three months.
However, not all students are excited about the new renovations. According to the poll taken this February, out of 18 responses, 50% of students liked the plans for the renovations while the other 50% either didn’t like the plans, didn’t care because the changes wouldn’t be implemented before they graduate, or were worried about the inconvenience that the renovations would cause. An anonymous student answered, “It’s irrelevant to us it just makes our senior year worse so in no way does this benefit me, and honestly, I feel like the timelines make zero sense. I feel it would be possible to do this all over one summer however it seems like it is not being paid upfront which probably leads to the longer timeline.”
On a more positive note, Elinor West ‘21 summed up these upcoming new changes, ”I’m glad that the school is improving. I think it’s a great step forward for the school to continue to evolve with the changing needs of the education system and its students.”