The campus transformation that is central to the new How Far? capital campaign would tear down one building, erect two new buildings, and move the baseball field.
Four Penn Charter leaders explain why this long-range master plan, why these buildings, and why now.
John White OPC ’65, Overseer since 1995, Treasurer
“When you plan for a school that has been around for more than 325 years, you have to think in 25- and 50-year timeframes,” White said. “This plan will position Penn Charter to be excellent for the next 50 years.”
In 2013, faced with realization that the current, 42-year-old Lower School must be replaced, Overseers could have approved construction of a new facility in front of the Kurtz Center for the Performing Arts, on Perrott Field. “That would be an immediate solution,” White explained, “but constructing one building to fill one need is not good planning.”
Instead, the school engaged in a thoughtful, long-range planning process involving architects, planners, visits to other campuses, and input from PC faculty, students, parents. That process identified the site of Dooney Field House as the best location for the new Lower School.
“By taking down Dooney—the one building on campus that no one is satisfied with—we create an ‘academic village’ that brings all three divisions together. Moving the athletics facility to the other side of campus where it is adjacent to the fields makes sense. And we can then repurpose the current Lower School building.
“I am a fan of that kind of thinking: We expand without changing our footprint on the main campus, and we position the school for another 50 years.”
A New Lower School
Kate McCallum, Director of Lower School
“Education is moving from a knowledge economy, where we needed to help kids learn facts, to an information economy,” McCallum said. “Now students need to know how to access information and then understand, manipulate and ultimately use it to solve problems, to create.”
The Lower School building, opened in 1976, does not meet the needs of 21st century teaching and learning.
“We need space and flexibility so that we can create dynamic learning environments, for example, space where we can set up project-based learning and then still have room to move around.”
When the Lower School building opened, each grade had two classrooms and there was a third room available for breakout sessions. Each grade now has three classes and the old breakout room is the third classroom.
“Teachers do an amazing job with what they have,” McCallum acknowledged. But faculty meetings are in the library on small chairs designed for children. The admissions office has no windows. And I often loan my office to a teacher who needs a place for a parent meeting.”
Lower School needs space inside, and outdoors. McCallum is excited about the vision for a new facility with outdoor learning spaces and more play spaces. How about a play space where outdoor musical instruments are integrated into a playground?
“Children learn by seeing and smelling and feeling and listening, and we want to give them that opportunity,” McCallum said.
To evolve our educational program and build a new lower school designed for the way we teach now, the How Far? campaign seeks to raise more than $18 million.
Athletics + Wellness
Christine Angelakis P ’11, ’13, ’18, Overseer since 2013
“The driving force behind the new Athletics and Wellness Center was the decision to build a new lower school in the best possible location,” Angelakis explained. “This presented an opportunity: We can remove an outdated, inadequate facility and create a new facility that is so much more than what we are replacing.”
Athletics are a significant part of the PC experience and identity, Angelakis said. The new center will fortify our athletic legacy and provide athletes with state-of-the-art training and competition facilities.
“We also have come to recognize the importance of wellness—for athletes, for students generally, and for teachers. We have considered wellness and community in every aspect of the design.”
More competition spaces will make it possible to schedule concurrent practices, and for students to finish and get home for family dinner and homework. And rainy days won’t always mean lost practice.
During the school day, before sports begin, the facility will get a full workout from physical education and health/wellness programs, both of which will have a home there. After school it will serve as a community hub.
“Imagine a gathering community—a place where people are leaving a practice and stopping to watch a game, a center where we can gather not only for sports but for all-school events. We’re excited about the new facility as it will serve the entire Penn Charter community for many years to come.”
For the new state-of-the-art Athletics and Wellness Center, the How Far? campaign seeks to raise more than $16 million.
A Singular Campus
Jeffrey A. Reinhold P ’12, Overseer since 2008, Clerk
Before this master planning process, and in order to advance the program in academics, arts and athletics, school leaders investigated buying land at a different location for athletics facilities or fields, or as a site for a new lower school.
“It always bothered me,” Jeff Reinhold said of the idea of a second PC site, “even if the possibility was only down the hill or over at Woman’s Medical College. It was important to be able to provide everything right here in East Falls, on one campus.”
This master plan makes it possible.
“By grouping the academic village on one side of campus, and athletics on the other, we are able to open the campus more and remain extremely green for a city school. And we are able to achieve everything programmatically, at a high level, pre-K to 12.”
Reinhold also sees enormous potential in repurposing existing buildings and facilities, including the current Lower School, the Old Gym and, eventually, the Graham Athletics Center. Classroom space would be a priority: “In the Upper School, if we want to add an elective, we can’t always find a classroom. This plan addresses the problem.”
Reinhold said Penn Charter will always be committed to the city, and with this master plan it renews its commitment to East Falls.
Penn Charter and East Falls are coming up on an anniversary: the school laid a cornerstone for a new gymnasium, now the Old Gym, in 1923, and opened the red doors of the main building in 1925.
“It is a bit of a goal that the campus transformation would be complete on the day we celebrate our 100th anniversary East Falls,” Reinhold said.