Students, faculty debate order of building construction in CD master plan

(This is the second in a two-part series on Country Day’s future building plans. Read the first part here and our editorial on the topic here.)

It is without question that all of the school’s old buildings will eventually be replaced—that has been part of the master plan dating back at least 20 years, according to headmaster Stephen Repsher.

The only doubts are when they will be remodeled and what they will contain.

The construction of the Middle School Center for Science, Mathematics and Technology is still set to begin in June, assuming the initial fundraising goal of $1.1 million is met (the school has raised $812,000 so far).

But plans for the other buildings—particularly the L-shaped building in the middle school and a visual and performing arts complex that will probably either replace the current MP room or be added to the gym—are far from definite.

Repsher said both can likely be completed in the next 12-15 years, but there are not yet any complete plans or set dates.

The L-shaped building will probably be built first, Repsher said, and should be two stories, providing space for a number of possible things: classrooms, art rooms, music rooms, storage spaces, meeting spaces and office spaces.

The performing arts building will probably be built after, according to Repsher. It will contain a performance venue with a real stage, along with practice and rehearsal rooms.

It may also contain space for visual arts, Octagon and Medallion, a dance studio (though SCDS doesn’t have a dance program) and other rooms.

The performing arts center may face design difficulties, though, because the city requires that fixed seating (which would be part of the performance venue) must be accompanied by additional parking, which the school currently has no way to provide.

But the need for both buildings is largely undisputed, though different people have different preferences.

Jay Holman, director of the physical plant, believes the slightly older L-shaped building is in greater need of repair and should be prioritized.

Music teachers Bob Ratcliff and Felecia Keys would like a performing arts center to avoid having to share one room with several different parties and to have individual practice rooms.

Art teacher Patricia Kelly said she would also like a possible indoor ceramics room and a space to display artwork.

“(An art display would) extend our classroom out to a public venue because right now we’re very confined,” Kelly said. “Who sees our stuff? Not many people.”

And Medallion does not even have its own space—the staff simply uses the computers in the back of the French room—so the possibility of their own room would remove the need to burden a host teacher.

“‘Medallioniers’ would be able to speak freely on topics of sensitivity,” adviser Joel Rickert said. “No longer would the adviser have to shout, upon the entrance of a non-yearbook person, ‘Outsider! Outsider! Outsider!’”

Rickert also said that a special room would give the staff a sense of pride.

But there is a major factor that dictates the need for both the L-building and the performing arts center—enrollment.

Take junior Emma Williams: a Country Day lifer, next year’s editor-in-chief of the Octagon, a concertmaster of the school’s orchestra and a member of chamber ensembles.

Dissatisfied with Country Day’s performing arts facilities, Williams considered attending St. Francis for high school when she was in eighth grade.

At the time, Williams took ballet and played the violin and the piano, and she was impressed with St. Francis’s performing arts facilities and programs.

“I thought it was something you’d see at a college campus rather than at a high school,” she said.[pullquote align=”right” speaker=”Felecia Keys, orchestra teacher”]I think people would take our programs more seriously if we had a nice place to per- form—I know the kids would feel better in a performance hall rather than our MP room.[/pullquote]

“It was kind of a fantasy for me almost to go to St. Francis because it was this kind of adventurous new world where I was going to be this great violinist and great dancer.”

Williams is a member of the Sacramento Youth Symphony, but she said she is not challenged by Country Day’s orchestra. “My experience in the school orchestra here has been more of a fun, almost social thing just because most of the students here are beginners or not as experienced,” she said.

“If I had gone to St. Francis, they have orchestras who are for people who are more advanced, and they are going to challenge you more automatically.”

Ultimately, Williams decided to stay at Country Day for high school and quit ballet because she valued academics and felt SCDS was superior in that aspect.

“The arts were really important to me and still are important to me, but when it came down to it, I wanted to be and still want to be a doctor,” she said.

Freshman Elena Lipman also considered not returning to Country Day because she was considering Natomas Charter or a school in LA for their stronger drama programs.

“For about two months last year, I was missing school about three days a week (to perform in the Sacramento Theater Company),” Lipman said.

Like Williams, Lipman decided on Country Day for the academics.

“When my mom checked (Natomas Charter) out, they had only one AP, so there was no way she wanted me to go there,” she said.

However, Williams said that improved performing arts facilities could help attract talented students who might not make their final decision based primarily on academics.

“If you have better facilities, you’re going to have more people who want to actually come, and with that you’re going to have a greater percentage coming with some knowledge about music or whatever art it is,” she said.

Keys agrees that improved facilities would make the arts at Country Day more attractive.

“I think people would take our programs more seriously if we had a nice place to perform—I know the kids would feel better in a performance hall rather than our MP room,” she said. “The MP room just does not match the rest of the school.”

Repsher agreed that new facilities would help attract students and improve the image of the school.

“I think that the visual and performing arts center would have a great impact on the attractiveness of the school—no question about it,” he said. “The MP room’s days are numbered, and it will be replaced with a much more usable, modern facility.”

But Repsher believes that the L-building is still a priority, and the reason is, again, enrollment.

The middle school will soon be approaching its capacity and will need additional classroom space, he said.

This issue will be partially remedied by the math and science building that will be constructed this summer, but the middle school will still be stealing space from the high school: three of the four (previously two) classrooms in the portables behind the gym will host middle-school classes next year.

“The middle school has gone from 90 kids about four years ago to about 145 next year, so we are definitely brimming,” said Sandy Lyon, head of middle school.

Lyon anticipates that the seventh grade will be split into four sections next year (for comparison, each high-school class has only two sections), and both the seventh and eighth grades may have four sections the year after.

This increased enrollment would likely require her to hire two additional full-time teachers, who would also need two new classrooms.

Plus, if the middle school’s growth spills over to the high school and grades have three sections instead of two (which Repsher said would be expected at the school’s full size), the high school will also need more teachers and more classrooms.

Following these admission trends, the additional space provided by a two-story L-building would be needed to support the middle and high schools, meaning the building would have to be built before the visual and performing arts center.

But Repsher said nothing is definite: trends may change, a substantial donation may spark the construction of something different, or the L-building and performing arts complex could even be connected and built at the same time.

Ultimately, all of the remaining older buildings on campus will be replaced, but the urgency of each one is obviously still up for debate.

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