Students returned to Roland Park Country School this week to find all the windows in the main entrance boarded up and dust billowing from a giant ditch in the back field.
Amid the unexpected construction, they also discovered its rewards -- new locker rooms, a fitness center and the promise of modern science labs by winter.
The private, all-girls academy is in the midst of a $6 million expansion and renovation to cope with a modest enrollment boom.
At the same time, the 92-year-old school is broadening its fine arts curriculum.
While enrollment in Baltimore public schools dipped by more than 10 percent over the past decade, Roland Park Country's climbed by 13.5 percent.
In 1980, when the school moved a few miles up Roland Avenue to its current 21-acre campus, there were 546 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Now there are 620. About 24 percent receive financial aid to help with the annual tuition of $8,000 to $9,500.
Headmistress Jean Waller Brune attributes the success to both the stringent academic program and the school spirit that are hallmarks of Roland Park Country School.
"The enthusiasm here is just unbelievable," she said. "Everyone has come back in and gone 'Wow -- look at what we're getting and isn't this exciting.' "
The expansion, which began this summer after the school received unexpectedly low construction bids, was to be officially announced at a school picnic last night.
Architects Cochran, Stephenson & Donkervoet designed the $3.6 million arts center, $1.2 million library, $775,000 science labs and $450,000 athletic complex. Kinsley Construction was hired to complete the project by next fall.
The arts center being built behind the main entrance will house a 425-seat auditorium, four music rooms, six art rooms, a drama room and a dance studio. For the first time, the school will offer dance instruction. A small classroom with a scuffed linoleum floor is currently used for everything from drama rehearsals to music classes and school meetings. When both the lower and upper schools meet, the students have to move into the gym.
By doubling the size of its library, the school can offer more computerized research equipment. Additions also include another gym, two science labs and eight more classrooms. They're necessary because science courses have tripled since 1980, said Gayle Latshaw, public relations director.
The school already has raised $3.2 million for the project, mostly through donations from alumnae and supporters and a grant from the Sheridan Foundation.