PITTSFIELD >> Miss Hall's school is breaking ground and establishing a new foundation for the future of educating young women in the 21st century.
Neither overcast skies nor brisk, breezy fall weather could dampen the spirits of the more than 100 members, neighbors and stakeholders of the Holmes Road campus community who gathered under a tent Friday morning to celebrate the dedication of the first new buildings erected on campus in 15 years, Linn Hall and a dormitory simply referred to as Residence Hall.
Construction for the $13.5 million project began in July 2015. The Residence Hall was opened in mid-August, and the finishing touches for Linn Hall are expected to be complete by the end of the month when the classrooms will be ready for occupancy.
In a unique twist, Friday's dedication ceremony launched not with the grand sounds of "Pomp and Circumstance," but with the staccato notes of handmade wooden xylophones played by sophomores Ivy Wang and Emily Yi. The instruments symbolized the innovative ways the independent school plans to approach the STEAM disciplines of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics — all to be housed in the new 18,125-square-foot Linn Hall. The girls constructed the xylophones last year in Ed Eckel's physics class to demonstrate the movement of sound waves.
"It's really exciting to have a whole building dedicated to STEAM," said Jackie Rich, a senior and day student from North Adams.
Linn Hall includes five state-of-the-art science laboratories, four math classrooms, the Grace Murray Hopper Innovation Lab and Jeannie Norris Horizons Studio, the latter named after the school's previous long-serving headmaster.
Rich and fellow senior, Olivia Nealon of Dalton, are both part of a new year-long interdisciplinary STEAM course, one of three new STEAM-related electives being offered this year as a direct result of the new facility. Already the students in that course are studying the landscape ecology of trees on campus and have met with biologist and artist Fernanda Oyarzun, who creates sculpture to illustrate principles in science, art and biodiversity.
Prior to the construction of Linn Hall, teachers in the STEAM fields had to share and move classrooms, and lacked ample space and labs for students to conduct contemporary research and experiments.
"Sharing the same space where you just have to go across the hall to talk with others in fellow departments is wonderful," said Eckel, who chairs the school's Science Department. "When you bring people together, it becomes a richer place. I think a lot of good things are about to happen here."
The new 9,325-square-foot Residence Hall, which primarily houses juniors and seniors, and includes two, three-bedroom apartments for faculty families, has been a buzz among students since the architectural renderings were first unveiled.
"Every day you could physically see the building progress," said senior and School President Zuri Wilson, who helped emcee Friday's ceremony and ribbon cutting.
Nealon said the new Residence Hall is "gorgeous. It's so much fun to be in the common room with friends."
"I'm living there now and I absolutely love it," said Wilson. "I love the aesthetic and design. It's also really cool to see what's happening on campus right now. I like being part of the change."
Wilson's not the only one who's excited about having new resources on campus.
Head of School Julia Heaton and board of trustees President Stacey Sotirhos, Class of 1989, acknowledged the numerous alumna who contributed to the capital campaign for the construction of the new building. This included nearly $5 million from former board president and emeritus trustee Susan P. O'Day ('77) and the family members of Linn Hall namesake, Caroline "Linn" Merck Perkins, Class of 1914, several of whom attended Friday's dedication ceremony and Board of Visitors meeting.
"We did enjoy our time here as students and believe single-sex education is important," said Linn Perkins granddaughter, Jennifer Perkins Speers.
"Miss Hall's is a forerunning school and to stay there, it needed some new buildings to keep the school going," she said.
The school currently enrolls about 210 students, representing 15 states and 21 countries. Of those students, about 150 live on campus, which has the capacity to enroll 250 students.
Junior Izabella Nunes said she believes the new buildings, and subsequent expansion of staff and student population can only be beneficial to the 118-year-old institution.
"I think it will bring more and different kinds of people here, and bringing more diversity here is so crucial because it helps you learn about yourself a lot," Nunes said. "I think this is a revolutionary time for Miss Hall's."
Reporter Jenn Smith can be reached at 413-496-6239.
About the construction
Construction of Linn Hall and Residence Hall at Miss Hall's School began in July 2015 and included primarily local contractors. The work created seven jobs on the Miss Hall's School campus and supported an estimated 100 construction jobs while underway. The $13.5 million project was financed by a $10 million tax-exempt bond provided by MassDevelopment, the state's finance and development agency, and purchased by NBT Bank through a private placement. The project was also supported by fundraising within the Miss Hall's School community of alumnae, trustees, faculty, staff and families.
The brick buildings echo the classic Georgian architecture of the school's Main Building, which opened in 1924. They also fit Miss Hall's Olmsted-designed campus, which totals about 80 acres and has been home to the school since 1909.
In addition to the Main Building and the two new buildings, the campus includes the Anne Meyer Cross '37 Athletic Center (2000), the Elizabeth Gatchell Klein Arts Center (2001), the Humes Euston Hall Library (2001), and two residence halls, Margaret Witherspoon Hall (1983) and Benjamin A. Groves Hall (1986).
Info: 413-443-6401 or misshalls.org