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DA’s Blueprint for the Future Comes to Life

By Leslie King
Upper School STEM and Humanities Center

Four years ago, the Durham Academy Campus Plan was little more than an idea — a dream for the future grounded in a commitment to excellence as part of a strategic plan that promised to create facilities that would “enable our ambitions.” Two years ago, what started as blueprints slowly rose from the ground and became reality with the construction of a 46,000-square-foot Upper School STEM and Humanities Center. Faculty talent and student ambitions — including a burgeoning robotics program with a competitive team that notched back-to-back world championship berths, a Science Olympiad team that regularly finishes in the top five in regional competition, a chemistry teacher whose teaching excellence earned presidential honors and a student who qualified as an Intel Science Talent Search semifinalist — are now supported by a facility that creates more access and exposure for students interested in STEM-related college and career paths.

When the humanities wing is completed in April, DA’s Upper School math, engineering, robotics and science classes will be housed together for the first time in history. English and history teachers will have similar interdisciplinary, collaborative proximity. All of them will connect to a two-story gathering space that promises to have as many student uses and benefits as the Upper School Learning Commons.

The following provides a snapshot of the DA Campus Plan in action: a student lens on the STEM wing’s first few months in operation; designs for the upcoming humanities wing and what will become the double-decker building’s former footprint; and a comprehensive reimagining of the Middle School. With each phase, DA opens the doors to 21st century excellence, inspiring new generations of teachers and students.


Hallway whiteboards in the Upper School STEM wing

DA Campus Plan Phase 1

Upper School STEM Wing

The STEM wing is a state-of-the-art facility built for science, engineering, math and robotics that supports cutting-edge teaching and learning. It was prioritized as Phase 1 of the DA Campus Plan in order to address the urgent need for new facilities to support increasing student demand for DA’s rigorous science curricula. Nearly all of the Upper School’s 453 students are enrolled in at least one science course each year, and 15 to 20 percent of them take more than one in a given year. The new design also resolves spatial and safety challenges the school was facing due to that demand. DA’s previous science and physics facilities, whose origins date back to the early 1970s and mid 1990s, respectively, were unable to accommodate larger numbers of students without potentially compromising optimal safety standards for instruction. In addition, DA’s science facilities were not built for the kind of group work typical of modern high school science classes.


  • Subjects: algebra, anatomy, bioethics, biology, calculus, chemistry, engineering, environmental science, forensics, geometry, geosciences, physics, robotics and statistics
  • 5 classrooms
  • 8 labs
  • Makerspace
  • 7 group study rooms
  • 2 small greenhouse areas
  • Math departmental office
  • 4 shared science faculty offices
  • Security office

“The STEM building is so great that I am jealous of all of the underclassmen who will be able to use the humanities building next year!”

Michiko Haynie ’19

DA Campus Plan Phase 2A

Upper School Humanities Wing

Estimated Completion April 2019

  • Flexible, collaborative learning space is added — larger classrooms mixed with smaller seminar and private work/study rooms.
  • Shared departmental offices promote faculty curricular collaboration.
  • Additional community space creates built-in opportunities for student-teacher interactions and gathering space for entire grade levels.


  • 2-story commons with seating for approximately 90
  • 5 English classrooms
  • 5 history classrooms
  • 3 group study rooms
  • English and history departmental offices



DA Campus Plan Phase 2B

Upper School Amphitheater/Pavilion

Estimated Completion Summer 2020

  • Multi-use amphitheater with adjoining pavilion for recreation, outdoor performances, diningor group gatherings.
  • Balances indoor/outdoor space.
  • Accentuates natural views of campus
  • Built in double-decker footprint.

“It's going to be a unique amenity that not a lot of high schools are fortunate enough to have. The amount of activities that the amphitheater can be utilized for is original and unlike anything else on campus.”

Spencer Sapir ’18

New Vision for Middle School Campus

In 2015, the Academy Road campus celebrated its 50th anniversary as the first home DA built from the ground up. As the school grew, students who were originally housed at Academy Road moved to Ridge Road for Upper School (1973) and for Preschool/Lower School (2002). The Academy Road campus became the Middle School, DA’s oasis for adolescence. Although the campus has been retrofitted over time to accommodate its tween-to-teen population, fundamental shifts in teaching and learning over the last half-century have prompted a comprehensive reimagining of DA’s Middle School campus. Nearly two years of research and input from teachers, students and architects has produced a plan to support the best Middle School faculty and student experience possible in ways that align with DA’s commitment to excellence. The six-year, six-phase plan involves renovation and new construction to reorient and remake the entire campus, and will be staged to avoid any student displacement.

Middle School Performance Space

DA Campus Plan Phase 3

Middle School Arts and Languages Building

Construction Begins Summer 2019

  • All students takes fine arts and language classes and will perform or gather here.
  • Arts and languages classrooms grouped by discipline to enhance collaboration among teachers and students.
  • Solves pressing need for flexible auditorium space with ample seating.
  • Supports student talent and inspires artistic development with dynamic performance stage, spacious art studios
  • and soundproofed classrooms/rehearsal areas.
  • Enables student/faculty collaboration on productions and eases staging of special events.
  • Replaces Taylor Hall and the two-story classroom building at the rear of campus.

“A new arts facility will allow our whole community to share the visual and performing arts in spaces that allow for premium backstage, onstage and audience experiences.” —Mary Norkus, Middle School fine arts academic leader

MS Performance Space



“A new fine arts and foreign language building will provide larger classrooms and flexible spaces that will welcome the high level of experiential learning that occurs in our classes. … Group work is essential, and we need the additional space for breakout sessions.” —Mary Norkus, Middle School movement teacher


  • A space that accommodates a variety of band configurations.
  • A room that is designed specifically for the acoustic needs of band.
  • Private lesson and designated instrument storage spaces.
  • Proximity to the performance room that allows for easy transport of instruments.
  • In-room instrument maintenance facilities.


  • Accommodates both gross-motor movement during group singing games and activities, as well as traditional seating for a choir.
  • Two interior soundproof practice rooms facilitate student sectional rehearsals during class and small ensemble/individual rehearsals.
  • Higher ceiling improves acoustics.


“I am excited to have the square footage in the room that will allow for several small group rehearsals to occur simultaneously! The classroom will also have the ability to serve as a black box theater for smaller-scale productions, which will result in more performance opportunities.” —Ellen Brown, Middle School drama teacher

Visual Arts

  • Large ceramics and painting spaces with abundant natural light.
  • Student art gallery provides a more visible display area for student work.
  • Gallery wall materials simplify assembly, hanging and reconfiguration of art and installations.

“Middle School students ought to have exceptional spaces in which they can grow and thrive. Our programming should meet the unique needs of students, and our facilities should be top-notch and flexible for teachers. Families come to DA expecting academic excellence and a safe, encouraging place where children grow into caring people. Our current facilities make it challenging to provide that. The reimagining of the Middle School allows us to craft learning spaces that allow all children to reach their full potential.”

Jon Meredith, Middle School director

Middle School Construction

DA Campus Plan Phases 3–6

Middle School Construction

Summer 2019–2025

  • Reimagines campus with learner-focused architecture specifically for Middle School students.
  • Preserves open campus, maximizes natural space.
  • Eases navigation, creates new front door to welcome visitors into new heart of campus, creates safer traffic flow and full accessibility.
  • Facilitates faculty collaboration with academic subjects clustered by discipline.
  • Provides larger, flexible classroom space to support future programming and innovation.
  • Increases security with fewer exterior access points.



Construction Timeline

Upper School STEM and Humanities Center

Completion Date: April 2019
Total Cost: $12 million

Middle School Renovation and Expansion

Tentative Completion Date: Summer 2025
Total Estimated Cost: $33 million

DA’s Board of Trustees has spent the last two years carefully planning for the financing and fundraising necessary to complete the Upper School STEM and Humanities Center and a new Middle School campus. The need for DA to uphold its commitment to academic excellence is clear and urgent, which is why the DA Campus Plan cannot wait. Our intent is to complete the entire plan over the span of the next six years. The timing of each phase depends on the success of our fundraising. A sound financing plan allowed us to start construction last year ahead of a campaign. The board has now begun an initial leadership phase of a campaign, and that is where we will be concentrating our efforts for the next two years. We are confident that the DA community will respond with the necessary generous support to complete our ambitious plan. There will be an opportunity for everyone in the greater DA community to participate, and that invitation is not far off. We encourage anyone who is interested in becoming engaged as a leadership donor to reach out to me or Head of School Michael Ulku-Steiner.

Leslie Holdsworth
Director of Development

View the latest Campus Plan