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A Campus That Leads: Evolving Spaces to Embrace Our Future

Erin Dentmon, Creative Services and Publications Manager

Bubbling and trickling into tanks and ponds, flowing water lures anyone who passes by on the bottom floor of Robinson Hall.

Although the sound summons you, it’s the 15 aquariums housing sherbet-colored fish that immediately demand your attention in the glass room. Minnow-sized orchid-tinged fish with silver bellies bolt through their tank. In separate aquariums, fish the color of Hawaiian Punch, orange creamsicles, and cornflower blue crayons drift and dart. It’s a unique sight on a high school campus. Even more unique is how the space creates opportunities for students to dive into long-term, multi-faceted research projects.

Armed with visions of dynamic student research and a Center for Teaching grant, science teachers Courtney Cox and Nicole Justice created an underwater breeding ground for tropical fish in the Rooker Greenhouse. The new aquaponics lab enables students to study life cycles, genetics, water quality, and the symbiotic way nature’s systems work.

Whether these students go into careers discovering solutions to water pollution or not isn’t the point. In this space, they can dive in, make mistakes, and carry out a long-term project they simply can’t do on the back counter of a classroom over the course of an academic unit that lasts a few weeks.

Our spaces matter. Spaces are teachers. They can be game changers. Spaces that ignite imaginations and catalyze curiosity are essential for meeting the aspirations of our bright, motivated, curious students.

 


 

Westminster Center will sit at the head of the historic quad. Serving as the heart of campus life, the revitalized quad will foster community and encourage productive interactions between students and faculty throughout the school day.

 

TRADITION MEETS CURIOSITY

OUR CAMPUS PLAN

In creating our campus plan, we have been guided by our history and committed to our founding values of defining academic excellence, creating a unique student experience, and serving Atlanta and the world. Each new campus space has been designed to enhance what makes Westminster special already. 

Three clear themes emerged during the process and are built into every project:

  1. Building Community
  2. Strengthening Connections
  3. Learning and Leadership on Display

The strategic plan that has guided Westminster since 2012, For College and for Life, plainly calls for spaces that eliminate barriers between our students and learning experiences that set the stage for a lifetime of leadership.

To fulfill that key piece of the strategic plan, school leaders including alumni, students, a dedicated faculty cohort, trustees, and administrators embarked on a multi-year comprehensive campus planning process that included research, data collection, analysis, benchmarking, and visioning. Most importantly, this process included wide-ranging conversations with a broad cross-section of the Westminster community about how our campus can continue to fuel a community that thrives on a unique student experience and leadership in academic excellence.

So what will these new spaces look like?

They’ll be uniquely Westminster. Renovated buildings will retain their historic facades, and new construction will carry forth the brick-and-limestone aesthetic established at our founding.

“We found a campus steeped in tradition and students overflowing with curiosity—we want to make architecture that respects and honors both,” says Tomas Rossant, Design Partner at Ennead Architects, the firm the School has retained for designing the spaces that will catapult our campus into the future.

“With Ennead, we found this incredible sense of wanting to understand the School and express our core values, things that are important to us, in the campus renewal process,” says Westminster President Keith Evans. “We aren’t getting buildings that are designed to be trophies for the architect, we aren’t getting buildings designed according to what happens at another institution. We’re going to have buildings that are expressions of Westminster.”

Our campus transformation will include a renovation of Campbell Hall, a new 28,000-square-foot Upper School academic building adjacent to Campbell Hall, the creation of a community plaza at Alfred E. Thompson Stadium and other stadium upgrades, and a new building at the head of the quad designed to welcome the world, Westminster Center.

 

A new Upper School academics building situated between Campbell Hall and Alfred E. Thompson Stadium will empower students to learn in new, deeper ways.

 

CORRIDOR NO MORE

Campbell Hall has served our students, first as the Boys School, and as the home to academic subjects of all stripes in years since, for more than 60 years. When this building rose from the pine forest in 1953, the “double-loaded corridor” design with rows of classrooms on either side of a locker-lined hallway gave students and faculty an efficient place for discussions and the transfer of knowledge.

ABOUT THE ARCHITECTURE

Our new Upper School academic building and Westminster Center are designed to live in aesthetic harmony with the rest of campus. They’ll be predominantly brick with limestone accents, echoing other buildings on campus. But these buildings are built for today with an eye toward the undefined future that is around the corner. Working with Ennead Architects, these new spaces have a modern design that still feels at home among our beloved halls.

But the world is different now. The ways students learn and teachers teach have evolved. Teachers take the role of “guide on the side,” ushering students through learning experiences that build their muscles in problem solving, critical thinking, and creative ideation—capacities they’ll need as leaders in work and society in the 21st century.

Larger, light-filled classrooms inside Campbell Hall will give students space to spread out no matter what they’re working on—from whole- class debates about the relevance of Shakespeare to producing documentaries about the Holy Land in small groups.Our original Upper School buildings weren’t designed for this kind of teaching and learning. A thorough renovation of Campbell Hall will elevate this beloved building into a hub for the kind of learning that will prepare Wildcats to lead in whatever paths they choose.

A new 28,000-square-foot academic building will be connected to Campbell Hall by a window-lined walkway. In this building, connection is the name of the game—spaces have been designed so students can connect with each other, their teachers, and the things they’re learning.

 

An atrium in the new Upper School academic building is one of many areas where students will be able to come together for activities ranging from studying to socializing.A breezeway will connect this building to a renovated Campbell Hall, lending natural light and casual seating to both and giving students and faculty more places to connect with one another.

 

CREATING, NOT CONSUMING

Whether robots, wood carvings, or smoothie recipes are the order of the day, the Middle School’s Innovation Space has the square footage, flexible layout, and abundance of tools students need to bring what they’re learning in class to life in creative ways. Since opening in 2015, the lab has brought a new energy to all parts of the academic experience.


Inside this new Upper School building, the Catalyst STEAM Lab will be a place students become creators instead of consumers. Imagine students not just using virtual reality as a learning tool but creating their own worlds in virtual reality.

“As our students prepare for college and their careers, this lab will provide them with the tools and support that they need to become the world’s next generation of creative problem solvers,” says Upper School English teacher Stephen Addcox, part of the envisioning team for STEAM integration in the Upper School. As one of the teachers of the JanTerm course “Campuses and Communities,” Stephen has seen how creating gives students exciting new challenges. “Students learn best when their imagination and curiosity drive them
to become active participants in creating and presenting new ideas,” he says.

Moving from consumption to creation transforms the way students learn. Look no further than the Middle School’s Innovation Space for proof.

“Kids go way beyond what they are capable of in a regular classroom when they’re in the Innovation Space, because if they need a saw to create something they’re envisioning, they can use a saw,” says Middle School STEAM teacher Kelly Weininger. “You can’t do that without that space. There’s so much creativity. It’s not about pushing kids into working hard; they build amazing things because they want to see if they can.”

The Innovation Space, a malleable workshop in Clarkson Hall with rows and rows of hand tools, a laser cutter, sewing machines, a variety of saws and drills, and towering stacks of scrap wood, cardboard, and other building materials, is a hub for students to learn more deeply about any subject they might be studying. For some students, it’s a place to learn the Spanish words for “chop,” “pour,” and “stir” as they make smoothies and practice verb conjugation. For others, it’s a place to think about what a country’s flag means while building one from reclaimed wood.

When Theron Boozer ’23 began Middle School, he knew he enjoyed solving problems, but the Innovation Space opened up a new world for him—it’s where he spends most of his free time now, whether he’s building a robot with the Middle School WiredCats robotics team or using a simple computer (a Raspberry Pi) to practice coding on his own.

From the first time he used the lab to create a diorama of the setting of The Outsiders in sixth grade English, Theron says he’s loved the freedom he has when he’s asked to create something. “You get to decide what to do. It’s a very hands-on experience. You have to figure out what that town looks like and do the research,” he explains. “You have to know the details to accomplish that end task— that’s a better incentive for me to really learn those things.”

 

COLLISION COURSE

Added in fall 2018, new areas for group study in a former pass-through hallway give Middle School students more options for where and how to learn.

A casual 100-seat dining area in the new building, along with outdoor seating, will complement Malone Dining Hall and relieve crowding with grab-and-go dining options for the Upper School community. This area plus social and study spaces throughout the building almost guarantee students and teachers will have “productive collisions”—those happenstance moments when you run into someone, start chatting, and happen upon a brilliant idea (or at least an interesting tidbit).

In spaces designed to connect people and ideas, as much learning can happen outside the classroom as inside. With informal counter seating, two students can meet up during a free period and finesse their argument for a debate. In nooks with cozy armchairs and plentiful natural light, students can study independently. In the dining area, the place a student grabs a quick snack before rehearsal for the musical doubles as a place he might gather with the rest of the Service Corps and plan out a community engagement event for the entire Upper School.

Places for students to sit down together—whether they’re cracking open their books or setting them aside for a moment—are already fostering connections in places people used to merely pass through.

Tables and chairs positioned in front of floor-to-ceiling whiteboards in a wide hallway on the upper floor of Clarkson Hall are a new favorite spot for group work among Middle Schoolers. Because the rolling chairs, half-moon tables, and new carpeting invite students to sit down and get comfortable, more of the Middle School’s square footage is open for learning. And gone is the silence that filled the hallway when classes are meeting—the hall is full of the chatter of adolescents.

These areas have given us more options for where and how our students learn,” says Head of Middle School Danette Morton. “As students use these spaces, they begin to see the whole campus as a learning platform, not just the four walls of a classroom.”

“WE’RE BUILDING FOR STUDENTS AND TEACHERS WHO HAVE ALREADY EMBRACED A NEW WAY OF TEACHING AND LEARNING—NOW THEY ARE READY FOR THE SPACES TO DO IT IN. EVERYONE ON CAMPUS IS EAGER TO GET STARTED.”

— President Keith Evans

 

A community plaza that will stretch across the top of the home stands of Alfred E. Thompson Stadium will be a gathering spot during athletic contests and other times an outdoor space is needed.

 

EAT! PLAY! WIN!

Whether you were cheering your friends to victory at a state championship game or wiping tears from your eyes as the last scene of Titanic wrapped up in Kellett Theatre, you likely have powerful memories of gathering with other Wildcats as a community. Likewise, you can probably think back to more than a few times you felt the power of your Wildcat family cheering you on.

Westminster’s community is special. There’s no doubt. Spaces that enable students, parents, alumni, and friends to all gather together strengthen our ties even more. A new community plaza planned for Alfred E. Thompson Stadium will give Wildcats a new place to join up in Wildcat spirit. The plaza, which will stretch along the top of the stadium’s home stands, will feature ample room for events before athletic contests and any other time an outdoor gathering space is needed.

Inside the stadium, a renovation will bring improved accessibility, seating, and concession and restroom areas. Wildcat fans and visitors will benefit from the ease-of-use of these new amenities while attending athletic events—the stadium improvements will help Westminster give a warm welcome to people who come to our campus from all over the state.

 

PARK IT HERE

Parking challenges at Westminster are no secret. To make the entire on-campus experience easier, we will address our parking issues as we renovate and construct buildings. A parking deck near the current visitor parking area will increase Westminster’s parking capacity by more than 200 spots.

Being a school of and for Atlanta is an important part of Westminster’s identity. In Westminster Center, students will have ample opportunity to meet and interact with leaders of all stripes from the city and beyond. Large open spaces will be able to accommodate a variety of functions from lectures given by guest speakers to alumni gatherings or professional conferences.

 

COME KNOCK ON OUR DOOR

Westminster has been a school of and for Atlanta since our founding days. From leading the standard of academic excellence in the city to engaging the city through JanTerm, the Glenn Institute, and countless other programs, our footprint in Atlanta is distinctive. Students learn lessons on field trips that can’t be duplicated on campus. But there’s great value in inviting the world to our home, too.

Thousands of people visit our campus every year for conferences, events, and as classroom guests. We welcome the world with open arms—in spirit. Physically, navigating campus can feel like an insurmountable challenge the first time you drive through the gates.

If you know where to look, you can find Wildcats interacting with the outside world all over campus. Upper Schoolers in an Ethics of Aging class host panels of senior citizens in the basement of Pressly Hall to hear their perspectives on getting older. Eighth graders in our ServeATL class welcome visitors from Food Security for America and the Georgia Appleseed Center for Law and Justice to their classroom as they learn about how to make a difference in the city and the world.

Westminster Center, a new building planned for the head of Westminster’s historic quad, will welcome the world to campus and be a hub for students to connect with and learn from visitors from outside the Westminster community. With ample event space, Westminster Center will be a home for receptions and for pre-performance functions after a performing arts venue is completed in a later construction phase.

Giving our partners from around the city and the world a warm welcome is a statement that their presence matters to us. Conference space tells the city we want to be an active part of civic life however possible— through our programming and the impact of our alumni, of course, but also through our physical spaces.

The arms of the School that interact most often with the world outside of Westminster—like the Glenn Institute, Odyssey, and the Center for Teaching—will call Westminster Center their home. Juxtaposing these offices with classrooms and spaces for seminars and events creates an atmosphere where students and professionals can connect with one another on our campus. When students in Westminster Center’s classrooms see technology CEOs, founders of nonprofits, creative professionals, government officials, and leaders from any other sector imaginable, inspiration is bound to strike. Leadership will be on display every day. As soon as any community partner walks through Adams Gate and into Westminster Center, they’ll see the School as a leader. Westminster Center is not only a place for us to welcome the world in—it’s a place to tell the world our story.

“WHERE WE ARE TODAY REPRESENTS FOUR YEARS OF WORK INVOLVING STAKEHOLDERS FROM ALL PARTS OF THE SCHOOL COMMUNITY. THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES, SCHOOL LEADERS, ENGAGED FACULTY, AND A TEAM OF EXTRAORDINARY CONSULTANTS HAVE COME TOGETHER TO DEVELOP A PLAN THAT CREATES SPACES FOR THE GENERATIONS AHEAD WHILE REMAINING DEDICATED TO OUR HISTORIC COMMITMENTS. CURRENT AND FUTURE WILDCATS WILL BE PROUD TO INHERIT THIS RE-IMAGINED CAMPUS.”

— Joel Murphy ’76, Chair, Board of Trustees

 

Westminster Center will welcome the world to campus and put leadership on display as a home for events, conferences, and visitors. The building will be situated near Askew and Robinson Halls. Adams Gate will move further away from the center of the quad
to accommodate the new building and continue to serve as the pedestrian entryway to campus.

 

FUTURE FORWARD

As the campus community prepares for these new spaces, the excitement is palpable. Teachers’ eyes light up when they envision how their students will learn in new ways, discover new things, and grow in ways these spaces will make possible. As students are asked to think about their own learning and the places that make it possible, they’re realizing that spaces designed for the ways they learn will empower them to go even further than they can right now.

“The vision and support of our incredible community positions us well to build these buildings. New learning spaces will fulfill the potential of innovative programs like JanTerm, and they will encourage more collaboration, discussion, and problem-based learning,” says Head of Upper School Cindy Trask. “Being at Westminster at this point in time requires faculty and students to not only live in the moment, but to anticipate and recognize the future— an exciting future that is almost here.” Construction on Campbell Hall and the new Upper School building begin this summer thanks to the early generosity of key Westminster donors.

It is an exciting time to be a Wildcat. Our upcoming campus transformation is a giant step forward in continuing to lead in everything we do. Our whole community will need to come together to make it a reality. We think Dr. Pressly and our founders would be proud of where we’re going, and we hope you are, too.

“THIS VISION WILL COME TO FRUITION THROUGH THE GENEROSITY OF OUR COMMUNITY, JUST AS THE GENEROSITY OF EARLIER GENERATIONS CREATED THE UNIQUE WESTMINSTER EXPERIENCE WE ENJOY TODAY.”

— President Keith Evans