A gift that will keep giving

Growth: Glenelg Country School is embarking on an expansion - in time for the school's 50th birthday.

October 29, 2003|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Glenelg Country School is preparing to celebrate its 50th anniversary next year by giving itself an enormous birthday present. The private school is expanding its facility for ninth- through 12th-graders by 60,000 square feet.

Glenelg Country's high school opened 18 years ago, but by 1992, administrators, parents and the board of trustees were planning to expand.

"We drew up a document that included this expansion," said Ryland O. Chapman III, headmaster at Glenelg. "It's been officially part of the school's vision for the future for over 10 years."

The cost, $13 million, makes it the largest construction project the school has undertaken. Glenelg has sought funding from parents, alumni, trustees and friends of the school.

"For a while, I didn't think that it was actually going to happen," said Ali Ashai, a 16- year-old junior, "because it seemed unrealistic" with the size and cost of the expansion. "But it turns out that we were able to pull everything together, and we're going to make it happen."

Chapman said it took so long to get the project started because the school's overlying goal has been growth at all grade levels. In the past five years, work has been done on Glenelg Country's middle school, including the addition of a performing arts center, and primary school.

The existing high school building was designed for 150 students, but enrollment is 190. To accommodate everyone, some classes must meet in portable rooms. Growth in the lower grades is also a concern. "We have more students now graduating from the eighth grade, plus students who want to come into the high school - building the facility is necessary for that," Chapman said.

Greg Phillips, president of the school's parents and friends association, said, "We really see the building of it for the kids who move in [to the high school] directly." But because his wife is an alumna, he also views the expansion as an investment in the school's future, he said.

According to Chapman, when the school was founded in 1954, some of the original families probably envisioned the facility growing to this size. "I saw the present building with 35 students in it. I knew one of my jobs was to build a high school and make it the flagship unit of the school" with a projected enrollment of 300 students, he said.

Ali said that he has mixed feelings about the school growing. Although he is looking forward to seeing new faces, he admits to being concerned that the small class sizes and individual attention students receive could change. "Hopefully, if we can get more teachers, everything should be fine," he said.

Additional teachers have been hired to help the transition go smoothly, Chapman said.

"I think kids are still going to be in small-sized classes," said Alexandra Cha, a science resource teacher who also directs the school's new observatory. "We're just going to have more space that fits our needs better." Cha added that she hopes the science programs expand along with the facility.

Construction began last month. Where there were green athletic fields stretching from the high school to Folly Quarter Road is an expanse of exposed earth and construction equipment.

The building will double the academic space. But students are most excited about the two-floor gym with its two full-size basketball courts, fitness center, training room and locker facilities.

"We have a strong academic and athletic program. ... With these new buildings and the gym, we will have more students and be more competitive," Chapman said. "With the new athletic complex, we may attract more student athletes to the school."

The space will be more than an athletic facility. The gymnasium will provide enough space for the entire school, pre-K to 12th grade, to gather. Currently, they're cramped in the school's theater. "It will be much more accommodating for all our students," public relations coordinator Julia Southern said.

Chapman said the faculty was involved in designing the academic space. "Everything we've built and designed has had input from the teachers. Our science teachers visited other schools to see what their new science labs were like," he said.

"With science, it tends to get out of date quickly," said Southern, so the school is adding a state-of-the-art science and technology wing.

Ali said he is excited about "the school itself. Everyone says that they most look forward to the gym. But we spend most of our time in the school" in classrooms.

The addition will include a new library and academic space: science, technology and computer classrooms.

The expansion is scheduled to be completed by next fall, in time for the school to hold its 50th anniversary celebration in the new space.

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