Renovation Plans Put on Hold, to Students’ Relief

Parents and children gather outside of the high school building on Country Market Day. Photo by Kaiden J. Yu.

On Wednesday, Nov. 9, Head of School Russell Shaw announced in an email to students and parents that the Board of Trustees and GDS leadership have decided to delay the high school renovation primarily because of a change in the estimated construction time from six-to-eight months to more than fifteen months.

This decision puts GDS’ plans with Coakley Williams Construction to expand and renovate the high school on pause until further notice. In the original plans, the most substantial changes proposed were revamping the high school’s exterior, expanding the Forum and adding 25,000 square feet across three floors. Storyteller Danny Stock, a member of the communications office, wrote in a post on the GDS website in March that the renovation plan was prompted, at least in part, by reports from SSC that students need more space.

Shaw wrote in his email that the disruption that the renovation would cause students “feels untenable to us so soon after our emergence from the pandemic.”

“I remember when I was first applying to GDS, I was reading about the renovation and I was like, ‘I still love the school, but that would kind of suck, because I would have an interruption during my sophomore or junior year,’” freshman Noah Kolker said. “So it’s nice to see it going away for now.”

Sophomore Matthew Berman also agreed with the decision: “Last year was our first year back after COVID, but it wasn’t really that much of a normal year because of [COVID restrictions during] the first half, so I think we should get at least one full normal year.”

At the moment, the school has no planned timeline to move ahead with construction. “GDS is pausing its pursuit of those particular renovation plans, thus there isn’t a ‘start date,’” Tim Lyons, the director of innovation, wrote in an email to the Bit. In the meantime, Lyons is “working with a number of partners to develop alternatives to that renovation that meet the needs and wants for the HS building.”

Some students wonder about the need for a renovation in the first place. “I personally have not noticed too much overcrowding so I didn’t think it was such a big issue that things have not been renovated,” senior Lauren Petrilla said.

“Overcrowding could be better, but it’s not overbearingly bad,” sophomore Sophia Ades told the Bit. 

The paused renovation plans included new gathering spaces for students and updated, bigger classrooms. “We definitely are running out of space,” senior Ben Carter said. “I think that maybe renovation is not the solution. Maybe we could just admit less kids.”

A rendering of a new design for an expanded Forum, labeled on the Coakley Williams Construction website as “courtesy of DLR Group | Bowie Gridley (Architect).”

“I can’t speculate as to the timing of implementation of anything,” Lyons told the Bit, since the Board and administration just made their decision on the renovation. “But I will say that I’m really excited to get moving, and to go as fast as possible to bring any impactful ideas to fruition.” 

All five students who spoke with the Bit expressed relief after seeing Shaw’s announcement, but several acknowledged a need for more space and offered suggestions on how to improve the building.

“People have been talking about making the Forum more accessible,” Petrilla said. “So if the renovation would do that, that would be cool because then it would be better for people who cannot go up steps that well.” 

This year, GDS turned the Well—a room that was designed to be, but not always used as, a technology-free wellness space—into a classroom due to a need for more learning space. Ades and Petrilla both expressed disappointment about the loss of the Well. 

Stock’s statement on the GDS website in March said that more space would be necessary “as the high school grows course offerings and student support.”

Although some students agree with administrators about the need for more space, both students and administrators are concerned about how the renovation would affect the student experience. “The day-to-day lived experience of our students is of great importance to us,” Shaw wrote in his email. “The important work of educating our students and preparing them to be changemakers remains our highest priority.”

When Petrilla first heard about the plans for renovation, she immediately thought of the current underclassmen who would still be at GDS to experience it.  She thought “they’d have to be taking classes in trailers or something like that,” she said.

Kolker said he was surprised by how happy Shaw’s email announcement on Wednesday made him. “I was like ‘Oh yes! It’s not happening,’” he said. “I like not having interruptions, going to school somewhere else…That’s not why I wanted to come here.”

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