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An inside look at the new Classroom Building with exclusive renderings

The building that Dana Hall currently calls “the Upper School classroom building” was built in 1956. As of October 2021, Dana Hall has officially announced that as a part of the strategic plan – Vision 2025 – our current classroom building will be undergoing a major renovation and rebuild. 

While initially the project was scheduled for completion in 2025, now the planning committee hopes to start construction this summer, for an expected completion date in time for the 2023-24 academic school year. This timing depends on whether funds can be raised and whether permits from the town of Wellesley are approved.

For the 2022-23 academic school year, classes will take place in the science wing, the library, non-traditional spaces such as conference rooms, and Beveridge Hall. A temporary building will also be built on the softball field, adding approximately six more classroom spaces to help continue learning as usual. 

Ms. Jessica Keimowitz, Director of the Upper School, emphasizes that “We know that magic of education happens regardless of the external facilities… it’s about the people, it’s about the ideas, it’s about the kind of energy, but we are also currently limited in what we can do, which is why this renovation is so exciting.” 

The art studio end and the administrative office end of the current classroom building will be torn down and rebuilt. The remaining hallways in between will be gutted and renovated. 

This image is a rendering from Dario Designs. Final colors and finishes for the interior spaces have not been chosen and are subject to change.

The key idea in the planning of the building was to create an open space for students to inhabit, connect and learn. Ms. Katherine Bradley, Head of School, states, “We know that most of our students learn more deeply when they are engaged with one another and with their teachers and discussing what they are learning, rather than simply working independently. Thus we want this building to have spaces that foster a sense of community learning and collaboration.”

College counseling, math lab, and the learning specialists will all now live in the classroom building, ensuring that everything students need to succeed is centrally located. 

This image is a rendering from Dario Designs. Final colors and finishes for the interior spaces have not been chosen and are subject to change.

Classrooms will be more uniform, and also bigger. These new class spaces will allow for opportunities to work at the board, collaborate, and move around even in a larger class of 18 students, for example. 

The current classrooms located at the basement level of our building are dark. In the new classroom building, the addition of windows will allow classrooms even on the bottom floor to have direct sunlight, which will hopefully help students to feel more engaged with their studies.

There will be a skylight in the center of the building which lets light through to all floors. 

Most classrooms (on all floors of the building) will feature one regular wall and one wall consisting of floor-to-ceiling glass that has been frosted in the middle to eliminate distractions during class while still allowing for optimal natural light.

The HVAC system will be revamped, meaning a much more functional, easy to operate, heating and cooling system all year round, in all classrooms. 

There will now be two bathrooms on each of the three floors of the classroom building, one on each end, totaling six restrooms. This is compared to our current two grouped stall bathrooms (one each on the first and second floors) and two single-stall bathrooms (on the first floor). In our current building, there are no student bathrooms on the bottom floor. 

The Upper School classroom building will now be wheelchair-accessible with an elevator in this building. If a student is injured, second-floor classes will no longer need to be relocated to accommodate the injured student. The organization of art gallery shows will also be more effortless as there will no longer be the question of whether the art can be transported up and downstairs.

Waldo auditorium will be extended so that the whole student body and faculty can sit together. The stage will also be wheelchair-accessible. 

The chorus room will no longer be simply an open room in the basement of our building. While it will still reside on the bottom floor, it will be explicitly rebuilt for choral music with acoustics, tiered seating, and extra storage space.

With rebuilt roads by the classroom building, there will now be a reimagined, more suitable place for drop-off and pick-up to make the process seamless for all.

Since college counseling will move to the classroom building, their current space will be used as office spaces, which Dana Hall is currently in need of for the business office, administration, and other “behind the scenes” community members.

This image is a rendering from Dario Designs. Final colors and finishes for the interior spaces have not been chosen and are subject to change.

At this point in the plan, there are many spaces marked in the design of the building specifically for grade-wide “hang out spaces.” However, the School is waiting until the completion of the building to work with students to “assign” spaces for grades. In the current classroom building, the basement lockers are a freshman hangout spot, the “pit” is a space only for juniors, and student affairs is reserved for seniors.

Ms. Keimowitz hopes that this project will “renew a sense of pride in Dana Hall students, faculty and families” as she believes there is something to be said for being able to say, “I attended or work at an institution that is willing and driven to make this type of an investment in its future.”

Planning for this remodel began in 2018 when a group of community members, including Ms. Bradley; Ms. Keimowitz; Mr. Robert Mather, Associate Head of School, P’24,’26; various board members; and outside partners, joined forces to better the Dana Hall experience in a multitude of ways. 

The project is expected to be a 15-month endeavor. And in a perfect world, construction would consist of two summers and one school year, which is why Dana Hall has strategically planned to begin right after classes let out for the summer, this June. 

Dana Hall officially announced the renovation of the classroom building during Family Weekend Convocation 2021 because the School felt secure with the recent donation they received of 15 million dollars from the Manton Foundation. The Niles family, who sits on the board of the foundation, was hesitant in publishing their name in association with the donation (and, in fact, took quite some negotiations, according to Ms. Bradley), as the family wanted the focus of the building to be solely on Dana Hall, not themselves. 

As published on Dana Hall’s website, Ms. Sandy Niles P17, 19, who is a Trustee of the Manton Foundation, states, “I know first-hand that Dana Hall helps shape the confident, compassionate, intellectually curious young women the world so desperately needs.” Ms. Niles adds that “Supporting the students, faculty, and staff through the modernization of such an important learning space is an investment in our future. We hope that our gift will encourage others to think big when it comes to Dana Hall.” 

The original estimate for the renovation price totaled $25 million. However, according to Ms. Christie Baskett, Chief Advancement Officer, this estimate was increased to $32.6 million in October when the committee had complete architectural plans. This increase was primarily due to recent supply chain issues and increases due to inflation during the Covid pandemic. 

As of February 25, the Building Committee is currently meeting with three potential general contractors who will be providing firmer numbers. 

While the Niles family donation and the donations of many other families have gotten the School to the $20.9 million mark, Ms. Baskett states that “against the $32.6 million, [Dana Hall has] $11.7 million left to raise as of today.”

With that said, Dana Hall’s Board of Trustees has approved the moving forward of the building (without all raised funds) and is prepared to finance the remainder if needed. Loans were similarly taken out when Dana Hall built and remodeled the Shipley Center and the science center. 

Besides funding, one of the most complex parts of this project is the actual logistics: figuring out what will be kept, where it will be stored, and most importantly, what next year will look like for Dana Hall students. 

Moreover, while there was little opposition from the Dana Hall community to the rebuild, there was a debate on whether our current building should be completely knocked down or if the core of the building should be kept (which is the option the committee has decided on). 

Ms. Keimowitz states that opposition could occur with the town of Wellesley approving all permits as the town has just recently voted to approve funding the rebuilding of Dana Hall’s neighbor, Hunnewell Elementary School, which is located right across the street from Bardwell Auditorium. While students of Hunnewell will be placed in alternative Wellesley public schools, the construction project would occur at the same time as Dana Hall’s building, likely increasing traffic in the area. 

However, Ms. Keimowitz also added that the town of Wellesley is happy to see the sustainable efforts on Dana Hall’s part in the renovation, which yields positive thinking that Dana Hall will soon be on its way to breaking ground.

This image is a rendering from Dario Designs. Final colors and finishes for the interior spaces have not been chosen and are subject to change.

When you replace something old with something new, attention and attraction are likely to grow in any scenario. This holds for what the admissions team expects Dana Hall’s admission pool to look like after the remodel of our building. Ms. Julia Martin, Associate Director of Admission and Financial Aid, adds that “a new building can build a positive buzz that may lead to more admission applications, and new buildings are a sign that Dana Hall is investing in the physical spaces of the school to enhance the learning environment. Both of these factors together can create excitement and enthusiasm from applicant families which may lead to an increase in applications.” Dana Hall will not be increasing the number of students enrolled.

Ms. Bradley states that she is “committed to maintaining all traditions, like Senior-Sophomore that take place in this building.”

Current 5th-grader Ally Winig ’29, who will experience all four years of high school in the new classroom building, is “excited because there will be a lot of space to learn.” Likewise, her classmate, Kasie Lin ’29, is “excited for the rooms with lots of windows and sunlight coming in.”

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