“Together we will play a special role in ensuring we leave this institution in a better place than we found it for the generations of children and families that will come after us.” - Dr. Robert P. Macrae
In January 2016, the Board of Trustees approved a comprehensive, long-range campus master plan which will serve as the guide for the transformation of the Country School campus over the next several decades. It outlines priorities and possibilities that will be further defined during a phased implementation over the next 10 to 20 years.
Throughout Country School’s history, the community has supported several capital improvement plans to enable the school to grow and meet the changing needs of its students. The most recent long-range plan was developed by a Master Planning Task Force comprised of faculty, administrators, trustees and parents. Their charge was to holistically examine how the school can best support existing and future programs and have the greatest positive impact on the complete education of our students.
Drawing on input from community Vision Forums, a facility assessment, space utilization studies, prior master plans, program subject studies, parent and alumni surveys, and peer review, four themes became the guiding principles for the long-range plan: Maintain academic excellence; Stay true to the culture and mission of Country School; Foster community; Reinforce the connection to nature
By Tara Coniglio and Abigail Manny Newport ’89, Co-Chairs of the Grace House Committee
Plans are underway to renovate the first floor of the iconic Grace House this summer. In addition to a brand new Dining Hall & Commons opening in fall 2019, the Schlesinger Library, Performing Arts wing, lobby, Head’s Office, School Store and a relocated Admission Office will all receive upgrades. View an enlarged Grace House Floor Plan.
Faculty, staff and students gathered on Friday, Nov. 10 as the last beam was laid into place during a “topping off” ceremony for the Susan Haigh Carver ’51 Dining Hall & Commons. During the previous few days, students, faculty and staff had signed their names and written some inspirational messages on the beam. As is tradition in this ceremony, a school flag, an American flag and a small evergreen tree – symbolizing new growth – were attached to the final beam before it was raised.
Work began in summer 2017 to renovate the Lower School. Students in first through fourth grade arrived in Sept. with their families to find a refreshed, lighter, brighter Welles Building. The renovations included a reconfiguration of spaces so that the homeroom classes are now in the “heart” of the building adjacent to the central commons with updated science, music, and library spaces anchoring the corners of the building new flexible learning breakout spaces; increased natural lighting throughout; improved air quality, as well as new lighting, paint, carpet and fixtures. Pops of color, furniture designed for innovative learning, and child-friendly accents throughout rounded out the renovation.
Work began in summer 2016 to renovate the Middle School. Most of the work addresses deferred maintenance, after many years of loving wear and tear. The new features of the building include a Middle School commons, which will allow the entire division to gather and will also serve as breakout space, with opportunities for presentations and other small group work.
Throughout the building, there will be additional breakout spaces for students to collaborate. By removing the exterior stairs to the gym, creating a new vestibule and redesigning administrative offices, the building will now offer a clear sense of arrival and a place to greet students at the start of the day.
Other Middle School enhancements include new finishes, lighting and upgrades to all common corridors, as well as heat and ventilation improvements.
The first major project will be a new dining hall in the same location as the current cafeteria. Alumna Susan Haigh Carver ’51 and her husband, John Carver, have already made a $2 million gift toward this project. Work will begin in summer 2017 and be completed over the course of one academic year. A new dining hall will serve as the hub of campus life and a central community space for students, faculty and parents, as well as a warm and inviting space to welcome prospective families and school visitors. Two serveries will result in shorter wait times and easier access to “seconds,” a wider variety of fresh foods due to increased storage and prep areas, and entire divisions sitting together in a less hurried environment. Equally important, the flexibility and expanded space will decrease pressure on the academic schedule.
A major concern identified by the Master Planning Task Force was vehicular circulation and pedestrian safety issues created by deliveries to the rear of Grace House and the existing bus loop that divides campus. The proposed plan relocates the bus loop along Ponus Ridge, while still maintaining dedicated entrances to Thacher and the campus core. All deliveries and trash pick-up will be relocated to the east side of the new dining hall at the basement level, with a pedestrian bridge above the delivery ramp creating safe passage for all students and faculty. These changes will begin to create a campus green between Grace House, Thacher and Welles, making Grace House equally accessible and welcoming from both sides.
The new plan proposes an athletic complex to appropriately serve students at all grade levels in a PreK-9 school. The upper-level main entrance will open onto a multi-court gymnasium (two competition courts that could also be configured to enable three teams to practice simultaneously) with retractable bleachers for spectator seating. The new complex will also include improved student and faculty locker rooms, an expanded fitness center, a multipurpose space for health and wellness programs, and sufficient storage for indoor and outdoor athletic equipment. The upper level of the Athletic Complex will potentially be accessed from the new campus green, while the locker rooms and lower level will open onto the athletic fields. This new double gymnasium will eliminate the need for the current Middle School gym, eventually allowing all athletics to be centralized in the same space. In addition to the new Athletic Complex, the plan calls for reseeding and regrading all of the athletic fields, with the potential addition of a turf playing field. The baseball diamond will be relocated out of the football field, and the east drive will be reconfigured to add convenient and dedicated parking for athletic events.
Country School has long valued the arts as critical to a well-rounded educational experience. The performing arts in particular provide an important opportunity for expression and the chance to combine creative ideas with intellectual abilities. With its increased emphasis on theater, chorus and bands, and its highly regarded tradition of public speaking from the earliest grades, Country School seeks to honor a long-standing commitment to offer a robust performing arts program. In keeping with the goal of maintaining Grace House as the campus hub, the proposed new Performing Arts Center will be integrated with the existing auditorium space. Plans include renovations and upgrades to the existing auditorium (improved seating, sound systems and lighting), a dedicated entry lobby and art gallery space, a choral room and music tech classroom, a dance and movement studio, new restrooms, and the addition of an elevator to make the new space ADA-compliant. The Performing Arts Center will do more than showcase the arts; it will further enhance the community experience, already one of Country School’s greatest strengths.
In1936, in an effort to expand and offer a more comprehensive program including athletics, the Community School purchased these buildings and 150 acres of land on Ponus Ridge and incorporated as New Canaan Country School.
One goal for the move to Ponus Ridge was to attract older students in grades 7-9. Under Henry Welles’s leadership in 1940 the school restructured into our more familiar divisional structure and built this Upper School building for grades 7-9.
In 1953, developing programs and increased enrollment initiated a directive from the Trustee Planning Committee for a “superlatively good school." The plan called for this building, to house an Auditorium, music and art studios and classrooms for grades 4,5 and 6.
Through the early 1960’s grades 1 – 4 were housed in 3 separate buildings. Late in 1966, The Long Range Planning Committee of the Board identified several key priorities including the need for a centralized Lower School building.
In the spring of 2000, the Long- Range Plan articulated to parents by the Board President at an NCCS “Town Meeting," included building an early childhood building to free up overcrowded space in the Welles Building and reduce class size in grades K – 4 by moving from 2 to 3 sections in each grade level.
The 2005 Plan to Enhance Program and Facilities included renovation and expansion of the Upper School facilities to achieve consolidated art and science classrooms, enhanced social and common space and, as a result, derivative benefits to the Middle School Building.