By Michael Ulku-Steiner, Head of School
We came to Durham Academy — from many directions and with varied roles — because we sensed a shared commitment to excellence. That commitment manifests in our life-changing faculty; the vibrancy of our arts, sports and community service programs; and the vigor with which we help students build their best selves.
As you’ll see in this magazine, we have also committed ourselves to building the best possible learning spaces for our students and teachers.
Before you read more about the what and the how of our plans for the Middle School campus, I want to remind you why we’ve embarked on these ambitious projects:
Our campus needs are urgent. The Middle School’s economically built structures are now 55 years old. They were planned when the Academy Road campus was home to pre-k through eighth grade, thus built for many younger learners, and were designed for the educational activities of the 1960s. We’ve made creative renovations to render those buildings adequate for our fifth- to eighth-graders since Academy Road became a dedicated Middle School campus in 2002, but limitations remain. Now we aim to solve the most pressing problems (“Hallelujah!” shout the fifth-graders, soon to be free of sitting on the floor in Taylor Hall). More importantly, we will provide the same quality of thoughtful architecture that our students in Preschool, Lower School and (with the completion of our STEM and Humanities Center) Upper School students and teachers enjoy.
Our design keeps active adolescent learners at the core. Student voices were among the first we sought and heard as we envisioned our renovated Middle School. The new campus will be safer for students (i.e. fewer external entries, better sight and supervision lines, a more logical pattern for drop-off and pick-up). At the same time, it will preserve the outdoor campus we treasure — keeping people moving all day through fresh air among buildings and outdoor gathering spaces. Among the other features our students prompted us to include: a more coherent and spacious quad, better access to the playing fields, more drinking fountains and two outdoor amphitheaters. Though we are midway through DA’s 85th school year, these projects will bring us our first campus purposely designed for early adolescents, catering to the unique needs and preferences of 10- to 14-year-olds.
These projects will frame and sustain our excellence. Middle School is a crucial developmental chapter, and DA’s Middle School is a key admissions entry point. We are building state-of-the-art facilities to help us compete for the most talented students in the Triangle and the most skilled teachers in the country. We have designed the facilities for maximum flexibility as teaching and learning paradigms continue to evolve. These projects will complete Durham Academy’s campuses at a level that matches our aspirations to remain a national-caliber independent school.
We believe in the elevating power of a well-designed campus. While DA has never aimed for ostentatious facades, we have proven that thoughtful architecture can unite and elevate students and teachers. From Brumley Performing Arts Building, to the Lower School garden, to Kirby Gymnasium, to the Upper School Learning Commons, we know how well-designed spaces can activate learning and build community. As Winston Churchill put it, “we shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”
We cannot take our campus or our future for granted, so we are energetically building them both.