“This is no ordinary groundbreaking,” said Head of School Rick Hardy as he invited his colleagues to lift their ceremonial shovels — ever so slightly — before hundreds of faculty, staff, students, family members, alumnae/I, and friends at Concord Academy this past weekend. “It’s CA, so this is kind of a theatrical groundbreaking.” Amid laughter, he looked squarely around the room, his shovel raised over a green bucket: “The key is, no dirt ends up on the gym floor.”
Rain did little to dampen the festivities on Friday, October, 2, at the unveiling of create + innovate: The Centennial Campaign for Concord Academy. The Gymnasium was abuzz with excitement over the future of the school. The groundbreaking ceremony for the CA Labs science building — the kick-off of the campaign and its first major capital project — took place indoors. No matter, for this evening was all about envisioning the evolution of teaching and learning.
The community had gathered to celebrate this long-awaited new chapter in CA’s history at the beginning of the Centennial Campaign. “Launching the building of this vital project a year ahead of schedule, we wouldn’t be here without your enthusiasm and support,” Hardy said. “On behalf of everyone at CA, thank you for your belief in this school and its future.”
With a focus on advancing faculty leadership and expanding opportunities for access and discovery, create + innovate sets a bold agenda for creating conditions that will serve Concord Academy well into the 21st century. As part of the Centennial Plan, the renovation of the science facility will not only double the existing classroom space for science and technology but will also create an adaptable, state-of-the-art setting for interdisciplinary exploration. Facilitating collaboration among science and engineering, as well as the arts and humanities, CA Labs will be a physical expression of the school’s commitment to strong student-teacher relationships and experiential learning, or as Hardy has said, “a revitalization of our core values and an unlocking of potential.”
Support for the create + innovate Centennial Campaign has been building behind the scenes for more than a year. The Board of Trustees approved the plan in May 2014. To great acclaim, President Kim Williams P’08,’14 announced the success of an initial quiet phase that had already raised over $25 million in pledges and commitments toward a campaign goal of $47 million — $32 million in capital and endowment, $15 million over five years in Annual Fund contributions — an indication, as she said, of the community’s “overwhelming support.”
Following Williams’ remarks, Neil Rasmussen P’10,’15, trustee and chair of the Facilities Planning Committee, discussed recent studies the school had undertaken that had underscored the urgency of not only better serving science faculty and students but also of making the sciences more visible at CA. Director of Operations and “resident magician” Don Kingman had accepted the challenge of delivering a strategy a year in advance of the original plan, while minimizing the impact on campus life. Partnering on CA Labs was Dewing Schmid Kearns (DSK), an architecture firm “sympathetic to both the culture and the architecture of Concord Academy,” as Rasmussen said — the same team that completed work on the school’s most iconic building, the Elizabeth B. Hall Chapel.
In the collaborative planning phase, Tom Kearns and his team from DSK had measured every square inch of the CA campus, examining the community’s activities and interactions. They visualized the potential of existing buildings, considering form and function with an eye toward improving how faculty and students use and move through the spaces where they meet, learn, discuss, and experiment.
Speaking at the ceremony, Kearns focused on the importance of partnership in his approach, led by the faculty’s vision of a resource-rich interdisciplinary facility. “This design creates a dialogue with the school’s history and the town of Concord, and it also looks to the future, with flexibility, transparency, and sustainable architecture.”
CA Labs will feature a living roof and passive solar energy systems, and the possibilities for using the building itself as a learning tool are immeasurable. A Flex lab with limitless configurations will enable faculty and students to experiment and test ideas. The fabrication lab, a dedicated maker-space equipped with a 3D printer, construction tools, and other cutting-edge technology, will give a home to the student group DEMONs (Dreamers, Engineers, Mechanics, and Overt Nerds) and future innovators and entrepreneurs. And from the rooftop observatory, CA students and teachers will be able to conduct physics experiments, view the stars, and explore the horizon far beyond the town of Concord.
Speaking at the ceremony, department head Andrea Yañes-Taylor expressed her excitement about “an opportunity that we in the science department have been dreaming about for a long time” to facilitate cross-departmental exploration. “We believe that the physical environment will allow our students to access new mental environments as well,” she said. “We revel in the excitement of the nerdiness of teaching science, and we remind our students every day that there’s real joy in engaging in the life of the mind.”
Irene Chu ’76, a leadership supporter of CA Labs, recalled her time as a student, when biology was her favorite subject, and the joint contribution that she and her father had made to the 75th-anniversary campaign in 1998. Why did she feel compelled to continue her dad’s legacy by supporting support the create + innovate Centennial Campaign? “Because 17 years later, I don’t really feel that differently about CA. If anything, I’m more certain. It’s about this special place and this community, the teachers, and each and every student.”
A current student, Abraham Lyon ’16, concluded the program by adding his support for “a new and more innovative era at Concord Academy.” Remarking that the rooms in the current science building aren’t well suited for group discussions, he said he had been glad to see the new designs encouraging fluid interaction between teachers and students. “The collaborative learning environment is one of the aspects of Concord Academy that I value the most, and it allows me to learn with greater depth and scope.” A similar atmosphere, he noted, is one of his main criteria as he considers colleges.
Amid laughter and applause, the ceremonial shovels dug in. Then students spilled out to Chapel Way to waiting food trucks, while the adults moved upstairs to celebrate into the evening in the dance studio, where the gold tablecloths shone under cabaret lighting, cuisines of Asia and India were enjoyed, and this milestone in Concord Academy’s history was celebrated in style.
From all who spoke, it was clear that The Centennial Campaign for Concord Academy is an investment in helping teachers and students pursue their passions and make a difference in the world. The vision of CA Labs seemed a natural outgrowth of the collaborative, expansive learning that CA faculty and students are engaging in together every day.