08/31/11 — Wayne Country Day ready for students to come back

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Wayne Country Day ready for students to come back

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 31, 2011 1:46 PM

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Randy Hobson, of Jackson Builders, makes a main panel box cover at Wayne Country Day School. The private school went through a major overhaul this summer as part of a $5 million expansion project to double the size of the private school. Classes for students resume Thursday.

It's like a brand new school, say officials at Wayne Country Day School, where Phase One of a $5 million three-part expansion is wrapping up.

Pristine, shiny new floors throughout the building, birch frame bulletin boards in the hallways where student artwork can be displayed and airblade hand dryers in the bathrooms are just a few of the sights visitors and returning staff and students will now see upon entering the private school.

"We only do this every 40 years," quipped headmaster Todd Anderson, of the school which was founded in May 1968.

The school's board in the spring approved the project, which is expected to take 24 months to complete.

Phase One began after Memorial Day and included a complete remodel of the main building and all 10 bathrooms, new flooring and refurbished walls and energy-efficient windows and doors. The project also included a new electrical system and full spectrum lighting.

Groundbreaking for Phase Two, a new high school, is scheduled for January and will include construction of six new classrooms, two science labs, a fine arts and performing arts classroom, as well as surveillance cameras and expanded library.

Phase Three will be an auditorium, which will serve as the second gym.

So far, the project has been impressive, Anderson said, as much for the progress as the aesthetic appeal.

"The 13-week project came in at 10 weeks," he said earlier this week. "They said it was OK for the teachers to come in, and that was incredibly brave, but everyone's been really pleased."

Several "spies," former students as well as staff members, have been visiting the school in recent weeks to get a glimpse at the changes, said Barbara Ann Vinson, director of development and marketing at the school.

"Alumni from two or three years ago are coming back to help us unload boxes," she said. "Just amazing, people are coming out of the woodwork to help."

The current office area will be transformed into a learning center, Anderson said.

"We have people who come into the county to test kids," he explained. "We have got people that aren't WCDS families. This is going to be really convenient for people to walk in.

"There will be three classrooms in here, plus the central area and a nice little office area. The learning center is up and running now, but we have got them stuck in a closet."

Despite the roomy feel of the renovated area, space is still at a premium.

"We have classes this year that will be taught in the library," Anderson said. "We have just run out of space."

The needs were growing increasingly apparent as time went on, making the need for the project particularly necessary, the headmaster said.

"When we moved five minutes after graduation, we went to take the (library) bookshelves down, they just fell apart," he said.

Staff found dated science experiments, particle board disintegrating from years of undetected water damage. The door to a bathroom stall literally fell off as someone tried to open it, Anderson said.

Now, standing in the foyer, envisioning all the new classrooms that have been completely remodeled -- all 21 of them -- as well as the new doors, windows, carpet and bathroom, is a marvelous sight, Anderson said.

And while he takes obvious pride in the surroundings, he acknowledges he wasn't as zealous at the outset.

"I'm the first to admit that I was wrong because we sold this to everybody -- don't get excited, it's not going to look beautiful, it's not going to look jaw-dropping, the school is 42 years old, it's run its course," he said. "I'm wrong. It's gorgeous. I never thought it would turn out like this. It's absolutely beyond what I thought we were going to be able to do with remodeling."

"I can't believe the things we didn't have until I see this," said Mrs. Vinson.

Architects helped decide the color scheme, which now features more beige tones, "calming colors," Anderson said, as well as full spectrum lighting.

"There's countless pieces of educational literature that supports the fact that kids that aren't ADD or ADHD or even LD (learning disabled), for the average child, full spectrum lighting works and has a positive effect," he said. "It was thoughtfully done that way."

Dr. Ralph Smith, returning to WCDS to teach chemistry and physics after retiring from the public schools this spring, could appreciate the changes.

"This was my room in 1972," he said as he unpacked supplies this week. "I'm excited. It's going to be great."

Diane Price, English teacher at the school for the past six years, was also enthused.

"It's like a new institution," she said. "And the design and the colors are very different."

In some ways, the expansion project has breathed new life into the building.

"We have had people come in over the years (and notice) the diversity, how quiet it is, the orderliness, but you can tell -- the building is a major turnoff because the building was old, it was tired," he said.

It was built well, he pointed out, but was still an aging structure.

"Plumbing was malfunctioning, it was only a matter of time with the wiring," Anderson said, noting that some of the classrooms lacked sufficient outlets to accommodate modern technology. "In 1971, who needed more than 10 plug-ins? That was more than enough. And now you need more than 10 for the Promethean boards alone."

The excitement will continue in the coming weeks, as the building draws a bigger audience.

"We're going to do an open house for the community on Sept. 6 -- everybody can come from 10 (a.m.) to 12 (noon) and see the place in action. There will also be a second one from 6 to 7 p.m. for people to poke around, look around, because there's a lot of people who don't have kids or kids that go here," Anderson said. "And of course, open house here is way late for us, on the 31st (of August)."

When classes resume on Thursday, officials anticipate a student population of 265, which Anderson said is up 5 percent.

"Everyone is concerned about the great recession and nationally enrollment has gone down 11 percent," he said, referencing a report from the National Association of Independent Schools. "So for us to have a jump of 5 percent this year, don't think we don't know we're lucky."

And while there will always be those who bemoan the fact that the revamp wasn't done while they were still students at the school, Anderson is quick to point out an alternate point of view.

"We will never ever hear any more, not for a while anyway, 'Oh, look at this place -- it looks exactly the same way as it was the day I graduated,'" he said. "That's all gone now."