Berkshire Country Day School to 'transform teaching' with new renovation

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STOCKBRIDGE — With the opening of its new library and performance space, Berkshire Country Day School has not only completed its most significant campus renovation in 20 years but also has made a major investment in its future.

More than 200 members of the school community recently celebrated the successful end of the capital campaign to fund the Kevin Hirt Library and Learning Commons and the Kim and James Taylor Music/Performance Room.

The campaign, launched publicly in December 2015, exceeded its $3 million goal by raising $3,240,202 from 457 contributors with a seven-figure lead donation from Kim and James Taylor, whose twin sons, Rufus and Henry, attended the school through ninth grade.

"BCD is as wonderful a school as we have ever known," Kim Taylor stated. "It provided our boys with an excellent education. It also held them in a warm, tolerant and gracious community. From the remarkably dedicated faculty, the robust arts and music program and the caliber and character of fellow students, we feel so fortunate that our children started out life in this unique setting."

Among the other major contributors were Philip Sedgwick Deely, class of 1961, and his wife, Hilary Somers Deely, Emily H. Fisher, the Jane and Jack Fitzpatrick Trust, the Adams Community Bank and the Feigenbaum Foundation.

"A real hallmark of the campaign was our ability to restore donor trust in BCD after nine years of balanced budgets," said Head of School Paul Lindenmaier. The school, which moved to the former Brook Farm in 1946 after 20 years in downtown Lenox, survived a rocky period after the turn of the century but restored financial equilibrium even as the county's population declined and student enrollment dropped.

"We've been living within our means, being very prudent and Yankee," Lindenmaier pointed out, "but still daring to dream. We've now imagined and realized a space that puts us firmly in the 21st century and is already stirring our imaginations about how we will transform teaching and learning at the school."

The renovation project by Allegrone Construction, costing close to $1.8 million, transformed Furey Hall, built in 1895 as a cattle barn for Anson Phelps Stokes' Shadow Brook estate, later owned by Andrew Carnegie.

Most of the remaining campaign funds, after renovating pathways and a courtyard, were designated to bolster the school's endowment to $1.5 million, triple the amount since 2008. A portion of the increased endowment will boost faculty salaries.

"We were very pleased with Allegrone," Lindenmaier said, noting that the building project on the school's existing footprint came in on schedule and on budget. Flansburgh Architects of Boston designed the space. The project manager was Colliers International of Hartford, Conn.

A tour of the new facility on a glistening spring morning revealed a spacious, sunlit library lined with books and research tables and filled with sections of attractive seating with pillows for students. Teachers were closely involved in the design. A soundproof Distance Learning Lab is in a separate enclosed wing.

The Library and Learning Commons honors Kevin Hirt, a BCD student (Class of '06) who died after fighting an aggressive form of pediatric cancer. Before his death 16 years ago, Kevin, who was 10, asked his parents to donate his college fund to support expansion of the school library.

"I certainly feel like we fulfilled the promise to Kevin," Lindenmaier said. "The community celebration was moving and meaningful. Time seemed to stand still after Kevin's mother spoke and his parents hugged. It's inspiring to think of one little boy's dream and how it will impact this school for many years. So, I feel tremendous gratitude."

"This Library and Learning Commons is an amazing tribute to Kevin and his insatiable curiosity about the world around him," his mother, Lynn Campana, said. "Kevin was an inspiration to so many people and we feel his legacy will live on here by inspiring students to explore, to be curious, to dream big and to enjoy the simple pleasure of a good book."

The library's Distance Learning Lab allows students to Skype international classes, access online resources and attend online classes, Lindenmaier said.

He cited expanded literacy teaching, including writing classes for Grades 4-8 and enhancement of technology offerings.

Lindenmaier noted that kindergarteners can see fifth-graders researching a world religion while the eighth-graders are studying and the teachers are attending a webinar, "so space is being thought of differently, how we can all collectively gather in one place and share learning in common."

The Taylor Music/Performance Room is already in use for music and arts offerings, poetry assemblies, kindergarten plays, as well as for all-school gatherings, readings and recitals on a stage funded and named for Adams Community Bank. The space also will be offered to outside organizations. On the second floor are three art studios dedicated to ceramics, painting and drawing, and mixed-media sculpture.

"We want to connect our kids not only with all the rich and vibrant learning experiences here on campus but also to resources and experiences outside BCD," Lindenmaier said. The school's annual travel program includes an oceanography trip to Rhode Island for fifth-graders, a visit to Vermont for sixth graders and a tour of Washington, D.C., for the seventh grade. Eighth-graders see the Everglades in Florida while ninth-graders are taken to Paris and Barcelona, Spain.

With current enrollment at 150, down from about 200 in 2008, the school is reaching out to prospective new families especially in Columbia County, N.Y., which already supplies close to 30 percent of the total. BCD will extend transportation service to Hudson, N.Y., to accommodate more students. About 30 percent of students receive some financial aid.

"We would like to grow enrollment a bit," Lindenmaier acknowledged. "But we made the commitment a few years ago to be a smaller school, understanding the demographics of the Berkshires, while we want to continue to innovate."

"Day schools nationally have seen a decline in the early years, pre-K through Grade 2, with fewer applications and smaller class sizes, " Lindenmaier said. At BCD, first- and second-graders share a classroom and the school is beginning a new preschool program for 2-year-olds, responding to interest from parents.

"We needed a strategic plan, a real vision for advancing the school programmatically and financially," said Lindenmaier, who arrived in 2008. "We created the master facilities plan, our core blueprint for how we'd like to take care of this amazing place and transform it for the future. So this project is accomplishing the two major priorities in the plan."

Reach correspondent Clarence Fanto at cfanto@yahoo.com or 413-637-2551.


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