Lenox — A series of intersecting footpaths, crisscrossing the center of the Berkshire Country Day School campus, is evidence of the school’s emphasis on making connections for the students and teachers who tread there each day. This spring marks the culmination of two significant projects that have breathed life back into otherwise static spaces on the 27-acre wooded Brook Farm campus. On Friday April 7th, the BCD community will gather to celebrate the opening of the Kevin Hirt Library and Learning Commons and the Kim and James Taylor Music/Performance Room, both made possible through the successful completion of Fulfilling the Promise: The Capital Campaign for BCD.
According to Head of School Paul Lindenmaier, this occasion “is one of the culminating moments of nine years of intentional planning,” largely based around the theme of visibility. The new state-of-the-art learning commons and the dedicated music room dramatically transform Furey Hall, originally built in 1895 as a cow barn for Anson Phelps Stokes’ Shadow Brook estate, which was later owned by Andrew Carnegie. Today, BCD, a 71-year-old independent school that intentionally balances a comprehensive, challenging curriculum with the culture and spirit of the Berkshires, is poised to use a series of dynamic learning spaces to reflect the myriad opportunities for collaboration awaiting students in the world.
The Kevin Hirt Library and Learning Commons is, as Lindenmaier calls it, “a 21st century hub” where transparency in both design and building materials results in spaces where students can not only see each other but also work together. The central design element literally brings the outdoors indoors with light, natural wood and connection being the themes that tie the bright, airy space together.
Four distinct spaces allow for the adults on campus to “connect the dots” for students, in grades K-9, who benefit from seeing one another at work. Lindenmaier outlined several scenarios where this model –varied age groups utilizing shared space differently albeit simultaneously — could be employed. For example, kindergarten being read to in the reading area, 5th graders researching world religion in the lower study area, 8th graders studying by the windows while teachers attend a webinar in the distance lab. Another scenario shows
3rd graders exploring books in the reading area, 6th graders practicing note-taking in the lower study area, 9th graders studying by the windows, all while a 7th grade Spanish class is ensconced in the distance lab to Skype a class in Costa Rica.
The open-space multi-level learning hub is named for former BCD student Kevin Hirt ’06, who died of a rare pediatric cancer at age 10. When he knew he would not survive, despite his courageous fight, Kevin asked his parents to donate his college fund money to help build a new library. His mother Lynn Campana said, “This library and learning commons is an amazing tribute to Kevin and his insatiable curiosity about the world around him. 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.” Lindenmaier points to the healing component of the project — and fulfilling a promise to Kevin — as fueling much enthusiasm on campus.
The space, says Lindenmaier, has “excited the imagination of teachers” who were asked for input during the planning phase of the project. As a result, the space reflects their energy, ideas and interests. Students were keen on a space that allowed the outdoors to come indoors. Above the Kevin Hirt Library and Learning Commons, the historic timber framing of the original dairy barn is
visible in the painting and drawing studio. Through a series of expansive windows, budding artists at BCD have gained both a view of their peers in the Learning Commons below and an expansive view of campus and what lies beyond. This visibility, in both being seen and gaining sight, is stunning. That the expansion on campus was made possible while “living within the [existing] footprint” is both “prudent and visionary” according to Lindenmaier.
Next door, in the Kim and James Taylor Music/Performance Room, a small group of third grade students, clad in stocking feet, are squeaking out the notes to “Hot Cross Buns” on their recorders under the tutelage of music teacher Charles Martin. This dynamic space is a dedicated music classroom and performance space designed to foster musical creativity and experimentation for all students. Members of the Berkshire community will also be able to hold performances and events on the Adams Community Bank Stage, which can host an audience of up to 100 guests.
The addition of the music/performance room taps into one of the school’s visions: to be connected, open and available, in essence what Lindenmaier calls a “relevant and important part of the Berkshires.” Of the project’s culmination, Kim Taylor said, “Berkshire Country Day School will always hold a special place in our hearts…BCD is as wonderful a school as we have ever known. It provided our boys with an excellent education [and] held them in a warm, tolerant, and gracious community.” The Taylors, whose twin boys graduated from BCD in 2016, are enthusiastic supporters of the school and served as the Capital Campaign’s Honorary Co-Chairs.
The Capital Campaign, the school’s first in decades, was publicly launched in December 2015 with a $3 million goal to support the facilities upgrade and strengthen the school’s Endowment. The fundraising efforts drew support from over 400 individual donors and community partners including Adams Community Bank, the Jane and Jack Fitzpatrick Trust, and the Feigenbaum Foundation. Lindenmaier will announce, at Friday’s event, that the total amount raised exceeded the goal; of further importance is that the project was constructed without taking on debt.
In Lindenmaier’s 9-year tenure, BCD has nearly tripled its endowment. The School’s current upgrades espouse what he calls, “the theme of living within our means while imagining a vibrant future for our school.” Lindenmaier went on to say, “I hope we’ve exceeded Kevin’s vision — we dared to dream like he did.” And, from a cluster of English Tudor style buildings at the base of West Stockbridge Mountain, the tangible results that come from envisioning the future are most visibly flooded with the bright light of possibility.