When I was offered a walk-through of the new middle-school science center, I jumped at the chance. Spending the past 12 years at Country Day has given me a unique opportunity to watch the school grow, first with the Frank Science Center, then the Lower School Building and, most recently, the newly refurbished high-school quad and Matthews Library.
Walking through the new middle-school science center construction site gave me a feeling that the school was growing up but keeping the best aspects of the old sixth-grade building, adding functionality and technology as well as tying the middle school aesthetically to the high school and lower school.
When I got my tour on Oct. 31 with headmaster Steve Repsher, I first had to don a hard hat. After all, the site still had scaffolding surrounding the building.
The first thing that stood out was the entry hall. With cathedral-like ceilings 12 feet tall, the volume by which the building is increasing is not lost on even the most casual observer.
The towering ceilings open up the building into another dimension, providing functional (tall ceilings allow space for windows that flood the rooms with natural light) as well as aesthetically appealing space. They also make the new building seem more upscale and permanent, a feature the lower-school building and Frank Science Center share as well.
The layout of the entry hall is functional from both an interior perspective and an exterior one. With double doors facing the street, the building’s entrance is far more public than the lower-school building’s.
The science and math classrooms will be split by the entry hall in the middle.
Connecting all four classrooms and the entry hall on the inward-facing side is a covered arcade, done in the same modern-mission style of the lower-school building arcade.
The covered walkway of the old sixth-grade building was my favorite part of that structure, and I’m glad that the architect has kept this design feature.
Although the classrooms will be connected via this walkway, there aren’t any interior connecting doorways, as in the Frank Science Center. According to Repsher, doorways were excluded from the design to limit noise pollution from neighboring classrooms.
In the science classrooms, high-capacity ventilation systems complement the movable island work stations, black acrylic tables on wheels, designed to provide both laboratory and classroom space.
“With the design of (middle-school) Room 16, half of the space is used for laboratory islands,” headmaster Steve Repsher said. “But if you can make the islands move, that can be classroom space.”
Sitting front and center in the new classrooms will be 80-inch televisions, as well as two whiteboards.
While the school added smartboards to the design of the Frank Science Center, Repsher said that they didn’t prove as useful as the school had hoped.
“You really couldn’t see all that clearly when they were projecting things, because they weren’t as bright as a regular television,” Repsher said.
“Teachers also found regular televisions to be far easier to use than smartboards.”
The new building will consolidate the middle school, as teachers that were formerly sharing classrooms will be moved into their own rooms. In addition, classrooms that are currently filled with classes for the majority of the day will become free for teachers to have prep time.
Overall, I was impressed with the design of the building, but also with the rapid pace of construction. With an estimated completion date of Dec. 12, the construction will be one of the fastest in Country Day history as the Frank Science Center and lower-school building each took approximately a year.