Greeted by the ATM, you turn left and walk up the stairs. Bookstore’s on your left, and snack bar on your right. If you look closely, you can see a foosball table shyly standing in the corner of the Great Room. Upstairs is the office of Ms. Faith Kagwa, director of student activities. A little garden area in the middle; faculty residence at the back of the building; classrooms at the opposite side of where you are standing now.
You can all name and envision the building described above. But in the years to come, this familiar view of the French Student Center will not be the same, as the Academy plans for a complete renovation by September 2020.
Ever since it was dedicated by Robert and Shirley French in 1978, the French Student Center has been a gathering place for students to learn and grow in each other’s presence. Yet as many years have elapsed, what is asked of a central hub to the student body has gradually overgrown what it could provide.
A Multi-Purpose Common Space
As of now, the Great Room dictates the energy of the whole Student Center—when there is an ongoing ping-pong match, the entire Student Center takes on its aura of excitement.
The current renovation plan aims to change that. Walking up to the main lounge area, you could sit and work on your homework as if you are in a café. The unused atrium will become an indoor courtyard, serving as a place for students to study, gather, and even have lunch. Hot food will be available at the fully functioning Café and Grill which will replace the current snack bar.
The Great Room will maintain its vibrant atmosphere, alongside these three distinct rooms with their own vibes. This will hopefully attract a broader range of students than those who currently utilize the Great Room—and its ping-pong table.
These spaces will be compartmentalized with sliding glass doors, which could be opened up depending on the needs of the students. There will also be a patio and terrace space at the side of the building that could be used for cookouts.
“What we are trying to achieve is to have multiple spaces in the Student Center that could be used for different reasons,” Mr. Jed Wartman, the Dean of Students, said.
A Refuge for Day Students
Imagine being a ninth-grade day student, going to see off-campus humanities event: You are soaked in sweat from practice, but you still have to change into formal dress. There isn’t any place for you to take a shower besides your friend’s dorm.
The renovated student center will solve these problems for day students, said Mr. Wartman. There will be 12 all-gender bathrooms with four showers, giving students plenty of room to change during the day.
The plan also designates a pick-up and drop-off space for day students. Parents currently drop students off on Middle Road, creating a safety hazard for pedestrians.
“It is sort of lucky that nobody has been hit,” said Mr. Wartman. The new day student pick-up/drop-off area will be located northwest of the Student Center, with a driveway next to the parking lot. The day student lockers will be relocated to the Student Center, too, from the basement of Frost.
Day students will be able to get out of their cars, drop off what is needed for their afternoon activities, and grab materials needed for class from the newly built lockers located next to the drop-off area. How the locker room in Frost would be used is still undecided.
There will also be a wellness studio, providing a meeting space for afternoon yoga and the required sophomore course, Life Skills.
An Eight-Month Project
It took a lot of time putting nuts and bolts together, according to Mr. Tom Woodruff, Director of Facilities. “We go back to the drawing board and work with the construction firms to reconfigure for either what the program needs are or different way to utilize space,” Mr. Woodruff told The Governor.
The administration has tailored the renovation plan to the wants and needs of the community, particularly through the Student Council. “When there were challenges, there was a nice team to engage with,” Mr. Wartman said.
“We were inclusive of all these perspectives [from faculty, staff, and students]. There had been continued conversations,” Mr. Wartman added.
The With True Courage campaign has met the plan’s $6 million budget, and construction will begin this coming January. It is scheduled to complete by the start of the 2020-2021 school year.
“It is an 8-month project,” said Mr. Christopher Wejchert, chief financial officer. “We know that no matter when we start it, we will intrude into the school year,” he added. This means that the construction will cause displacement of classrooms, offices, and the bookstore. The bookstore will be temporarily relocated, although there is no specific plan as to its future location.
Seniors, however, will not be able to enjoy the new facilities. “It’s kind of unfortunate for us,” said Jaclyn Cerniglia ’20.