Adding spaces for more faces

Indian Creek to celebrate opening of new building to accommodate school's inclusion of upper grades

September 10, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,Special to The Sun

When former Prince George's County educators Anne Chambers and Rebecca Randolph opened Indian Creek School in 1973, it had 33 pupils in kindergarten through second grade sharing about 5,000 square feet of space.

How times have changed. Today, the school will celebrate the opening of the $17 million Upper School at the end of Anne Chambers Way in Crownsville. Its 96,000-square-feet space, including an auditorium, science labs and gym - will accommodate up to 380 students in grades eight through 12.

"I didn't think we'd ever have an upper school," said Chambers, who is now head of school. "I thought we'd have a middle school."

Randolph is principal of the Lower School, about five miles away.

Indian Creek is a nondenominational private school that emphasizes finding the right education for each child. Tuition is $17,475 a year.

Over the years, the school expanded to about 80,000 square feet, putting on additions as it added classes and grades. The first eighth-grade class graduated in 1979. Now, enrollment in kindergarten through eighth grade is about 450.

But it wasn't until two years ago that ninth-graders could continue their education there.

Chambers said she changed her mind about creating a high school partly because so many parents requested it. She also noted that eighth-graders leaving Indian Creek often underwent intense anxiety as they tried to find the right high school. "We thought a school of this kind was needed," she said.

For the past two years, high-school-level classes have been held on the grounds of the former Crownsville Hospital Center while the new facility, which broke ground in September 2004, was being constructed.

In late August, the Indian Creek Upper School opened its doors to 109 students led by Eileen Mattingly, a former Indian Creek teacher whose children were pupils there.

The cavernous gym still smells like varnish and doesn't have a scoreboard, and the computers in the library are still being made operational.

"It's been an adventure," said Jason Goldblatt, systems administrator. He said the computers are equipped with filters so that students won't be able to access inappropriate sites.

The walls of the school are still mostly bare, especially on one hallway designated as the place where athletic trophies will go someday. But school officials say they are thrilled with the 29-classroom building, even though it's so large some women have ditched their high heels in favor of more comfortable flat-soled shoes.

With the luxury of building a high school from the ground up, Indian Creek educators drew on their years of experience at other schools. They knew that students tend to throw their smelly socks on the top of gym lockers, so they built the lockers with slanted tops.

They created classrooms with plenty of windows and natural light. They put a real kiln next to the art rooms. They built in tons of storage space and created a school store that students will run.

The centerpiece of the two-story structure is the 450-seat auditorium, which includes catwalks for the lighting crew. The auditorium and gym form a core of load-bearing walls that make future changes throughout the rest of the building easier. The school sits on 114 acres, so there's plenty of room to expand.

Development Director Elaine Nagey also noted that the auditorium will be used for theater-based summer camps.

The school was built to hold as many as 780, but Traci Ramsey, director of major gifts and campaigns, said it will never hold more than 380. All that space means the school can also serve as a community center of sorts, said Nagey. For example, the Chesapeake Youth Symphony Orchestra will be based at the school, she said.

The building now houses eighth-graders who were eager to start at the Upper School, as well as students in grades nine to 11. Next year, a 12th grade will be introduced.

Late last week, the students were on field trips, a ritual at Indian Creek that helps classmates bond with each other at the start of the school year.

Most of the teachers were gone, too, but not Sue Malone, an English and yearbook teacher who was in the empty-looking publications room, working at a computer.

"I love this building," said Malone. "It's wonderful. And our students love it. I think it's really conducive to learning. It's just a nice place for them to be."

The dedication of Indian Creek Upper School, 1130 Anne Chambers Way off of Crownsville Road, is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. today. County Executive Janet S. Owens will be a featured speaker, and the ceremony and tours will follow. Information: 410-923-9113.

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