Building new beginning for Friends School pupils

$8.4 million facility is set to open tomorrow for 6th-, 7th-, 8th-graders


News from around the Baltimore region

September 06, 2005|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

For the 250 pupils who attend sixth, seventh and eighth grades at Friends School of Baltimore, tomorrow will be a new beginning at the oldest school in Baltimore.

Friends School, established by Quakers in 1784, will open its new middle school building on the North Charles Street campus on the eastern edge of Roland Park.

"Lots of new beginnings going on here," the new head of school, Matthew Micciche, said yesterday, as he paced pristine halls, and teachers readied the sky-blue rooms.

Micciche said the faculty "was heavily involved in the design" of the 42,000-square-foot school. Still, social studies teacher Deloris Jones seemed caught in a daydream.

"I'm speechless. I didn't think it would be quite so elegant," Jones said yesterday. "You should see the size of my storage closet."

Made of stone and stucco and with a rubber-slate roof rendered out of recycled auto tires, the $8.4 million, two-story building is flooded with natural light, heated and cooled by a geothermal system and designed in a "new urbanist" village style by the city firm Ziger/Snead.

When pupils enter the front doors, they will step into a wide, airy space intended for community gathering. Along the polished concrete floors are unusually wide lockers to hold backpacks.

Andy Spawn, a faculty member who teaches science, unpacked and immediately placed his hornet's nest and a bleached deer skull on a window ledge overlooking new playing fields -- still under construction -- to create some atmosphere. John Watt, the math department chair, said he looked forward to having 16 interactive classroom "smart boards," leaving chalkboards in the dust. Adrienne van den Beemt, a chemistry teacher, said she would have "easily three times" more room for 11- and 12-year-olds handling beakers of boiling water.

Micciche, 34, who moved to Baltimore from his position as assistant head for academics at Wilmington Friends School in Delaware, said the new building was a key piece of a strategic plan for the reconfigured school, which also envisions a new performing arts center.

To make room for the middle school and two athletic fields with turf designed to dry 15 minutes after a rainfall, the clay courts of the Friends Racquet Club were removed, to the chagrin of some tennis buffs.

The flux and construction, which included creating a science and mathematics wing for the upper school in the former middle school space, caused some wear and tear on campus morale last year.

"It was tough on teachers, but it's a beautiful building and everyone's excited," said Brenda Petersen, chair of the upper school history department. "It's simple, and the lines are clean."

"New beginnings" is this year's theme for the school started on Aisquith Street by the Society of Friends. Some new schoolroom windows face directly into the fieldstone of the upper school, a 1931-vintage structure, infusing the newest arrival with an instant sense of history.

"I'm coming here at an exciting time in the life of the school," Micciche said. The middle school is designed to meet the educational needs of early adolescents.

"There is a need for middle school students to have a specific education," said Micciche, noting the classrooms can accommodate one-on-one "peer-edits," in which pairs review each other's writing, and "break-out groups" to focus on a topic in small groups.

William Claymore Sieck, a Friends School alumnus who graduated in the 1960s, admired the school and noted it was built largely on a parking lot -- right about where he parked a Mustang in his younger days. "The notion of not being able to park [here] is foreign to me," he said lightly.

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