In Atlanta, Private Schools Start Building as Economy Recovers

In Atlanta, Private Schools Start Building as Economy Recovers


Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA)

Dec. 07–Towering libraries, expansive classrooms and sophisticated science labs are taking shape at Atlanta’s private schools, part of a construction spurt signaling confidence in the economy and strong demand for an elite education.

The multimillion-dollar school projects have been planned for years, but many of them are being built at the same time in the wake of the recession. After waiting out the downturn, donors loosened their wallets and schools decided to move forward with upgrades.

At Pace Academy in Buckhead, the metal frame of a four-story building marks where a new high school will open in August. The $32 million project — next to a school administration building known as the Castle — will fit with the rest of the campus’ Tudor architecture, with a clock tower, outdoor learning space and turret.

“The buildings ought to reflect the quality of the people inside,” said Fred Assaf, Pace’s head of school. “Some of us looked at the old building and said, ‘People aren’t coming here for the facilities.’ The truth is, both our population and programs had outgrown the space.”

The 75,000-square-foot building will include eight science labs, a college counseling center, a library, a fireplace, a reading room and a common area. It’s funded in part by a donation from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, named for the Atlanta Falcons owner who sent four of his children to Pace.

Private schools across Atlanta have wanted to make campus improvements for a long time, creating pent-up demand that is now being unleashed as the economy has improved, said Sandy Cooper of Collins Cooper Carusi Architects, which has worked on projects at Pace, Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School, the Lovett School, Atlanta International School and others.

“Now the market is showing signs of recovery, and with money being as inexpensive as it is to borrow, these private schools can’t sit on the sidelines with aging buildings forever because they too are in a competitive business,” Cooper said. “Schools focus on different things at different times. Everybody is trying to figure out the best way for students and teachers to communicate, and what the physical environment can do to enhance those relationships.”

While some private schools are expanding because of growing student enrollment, officials at most schools said their construction was part of long-range plans to better their campuses.

Statewide enrollment in private schools is near its all-time peak, with 76,400 students as of last January, compared to a low point of 74,000 students when the recession pinched families’ ability to pay for education, said Jeff Jackson, president of the Georgia Association of Independent Schools.

“The industry has been remarkably resilient,” Jackson said. “There are some projects that had been put on hold, and schools have received philanthropic gifts or are in a place where they can move forward now.”

Woodward Academy in College Park is also undergoing a major expansion, building a 103,000-square-foot humanities hall filled mostly with additional classroom space for English, foreign languages and social studies.

At a cost of about $26 million, Jane Woodruff Hall will help Woodward reach its goal of becoming a national model for college preparatory education, said Upper School Principal Chris Freer. It’s scheduled to open in August.

“The independent schools world in Atlanta is competitive, and everyone is trying to provide students with the absolute best,” Freer said. “It’s a sign of society’s investment in education.”

Across town at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School in Sandy Springs, a new centerpiece building will house math and science classes for upper school students, as well as a dining hall and a robotics lab. The building, funded through a $22.5 million campaign, would open in time for the 2015-2016 school year.

“We had hoped to start building this back in ’08, and then realized trying to raise money at that time wasn’t going to be easy,” said Michele Duncan, assistant headmaster for institutional advancement. “We hope this will be an impressive building that’s the front door of the campus.”

Several Catholic schools around town have been renovating to make room for additional classroom space.

Front offices were reconfigured last summer at Blessed Trinity Catholic High School in Roswell, a giant air conditioning system is being replaced at St. Pius X Catholic High School in northeast Atlanta, and a courtyard is being filled and a classroom added at St. Jude the Apostle Catholic School in Sandy Springs.

“We’ve been able to pick up a few classrooms just through remodeling,” said Diane Starkovich, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese of Atlanta. “It’s been allowing us to either expand course offerings or alleviate overcrowding in core content areas.”

A new Catholic school, Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School, is scheduled to open in Midtown next fall.

At St. Martin’s Episcopal School in Brookhaven, a middle school building opened in August 2012 as the result of a $7.5 million fundraising effort that also included renovations for a computer lab, cafeteria, science labs and a library.

Construction projects also are planned or have recently been completed at Wesleyan School in Norcross, Lovett in Buckhead, Marist School near Dunwoody, Whitefield Academy in Smyrna, Mount Vernon Presbyterian School in Sandy Springs, Greater Atlanta Christian School in Norcross and Paideia School near Druid Hills.

Applications to enroll in private schools during the 2014-2015 school year must be submitted by early next year.

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