News Post

Board approves Middle School master plan; survey to assess financial support opens Monday
Board approves Middle School master plan; survey to assess financial support opens Monday

Durham Academy’s Board of Trustees has approved a multi-phased Middle School campus master plan that involves every building on the Academy Road campus. The plan creates new academic and community spaces, reorients the campus for cohesiveness and safety, and supports rather than inhibits the Middle School learning experience. When completed, this plan will transform the Middle School experience with a campus designed purposefully for the intellectual, developmental and physical needs of young adolescents. 

“I’m so grateful to see a plan emerge that is both visionary and respectful for what we are so fortunate to already have — this historic, 22-acre home,” Middle School Director Jon Meredith said. “This master plan retains the open, natural spaces that are a hallmark of Academy Road while promising state-of-the-art buildings that will provide an optimal learning environment for Middle School students.”

The Academy Road campus was originally designed and built in 1966 for Preschool, Lower School and Middle School students. It only became a dedicated Middle School in 2002, when the Preschool and Lower School moved to Ridge Road. Now, most of the buildings are outdated and reaching or exceeding their life expectancy. The campus has been retrofitted over time to serve its changing student population, but many of the classrooms are not optimal for Middle School needs. Recognizing the urgent need for facilities that meet the school’s standard of excellence, the 2015 Strategic Plan charged the DA community to recommit to the Academy Road campus with a comprehensive construction and fundraising plan to completely renovate and expand the Middle School.

The Middle School master plan is the result of a thorough and inclusive process led by Cannon Architects, who designed the Upper School Learning Commons and Kirby Gymnasium and the under-construction STEM & Humanities Center. The process of developing the plan involved faculty, parents, students and trustees. The focus was to capitalize on what is beloved about the Academy Road campus — a sprawling, outdoor environment that fosters a connection to nature, a protective oasis for tweens at a key point in their social and academic development, and an emotional and historical connection to DA’s first true home — and to create a campus designed purposefully for innovative learning for this specific age group. The plan also addresses safety concerns and accessibility and traffic issues, creating a campus that is much more functional, welcoming and safe.

The construction plan is sequenced in four major phases spanning an anticipated five years to minimize disruption, and requires no temporary modular buildings. The result will be a campus with more academic classrooms appropriately sized for Middle School students, more and bigger community gathering spaces, and a more cohesive orientation that creates a true heart of campus with a center quad.

“In the decades since the Academy Road campus was built, DA has grown and needs have changed,” Buildings and Grounds Committee Chair Laura Virkler ’91 explained. “The Middle School campus needs to be renovated to better meet the needs of our students while enabling our wonderful teachers to continue their work in spaces meant for their disciplines. The new master plan will maintain the heart of the campus and preserve those details that have made the Middle School experience at DA so special while meeting the demands for our future students.”

The planning process assessed current building use and anticipated future needs.

Current Middle School Campus                     
  • Buildings: 77,000 square feet
  • 41 classrooms
  • Classroom size: 650-750 square feet
  • 5 buildings demolished
Future Middle School Campus
  • Buildings: 140,000 square feet
  • 52 classrooms, commons, 2-story auditorium
  • Classroom/lab size: 800 square feet/1,500 square feet
  • 4 new buildings constructed
  • Renovation & expansion of gym, library/art/science building

The increase in the square footage of buildings allows for indoor hallways, stairwells and elevators. Most of the growth is dedicated to learning environments, community space, and athletics and fine arts facilities. The master plan will create space appropriate for an entire grade level to gather, a two-story auditorium that accommodates the entire school, a gym that is regulation-size and a much-needed commons area.

The approval of the Middle School master plan completes the comprehensive Durham Academy Campus Plan. Phase one of the DA Campus Plan, the STEM wing of the Upper School STEM & Humanities Center, is already under construction. Phase two, the Humanities wing, is scheduled for completion in spring 2019. When completed, the Upper School STEM & Humanities Center will become the Upper School’s academic hub, housing math, science, robotics, English and history. The need for the Upper School STEM & Humanities Center was so urgent that in April 2016 the board approved a construction and financing plan that allowed the school to start building ahead of a capital campaign.

The Middle School master plan represents phases three through six of the DA Campus Plan, with an anticipated start date of spring 2019 for phase three.

Phase three builds a new 52,000-square-foot academic building with 13 to 14 classrooms and an auditorium. The existing split-level 400 building (which primarily houses seventh- and eighth-grade academic classrooms, Middle School Extended Day, the Middle School counselor and movement) will be demolished at the end of this phase.

Phase four renovates and expands the existing 500 building (currently housing the Middle School board room, library, computer lab, art, language arts and science classrooms) to create five science classrooms/labs, 1 to 2 computer lab/maker spaces and a renovated library. During this phase, the library and classrooms will be moved to Taylor Hall and the music and drama classrooms. Taylor Hall will be demolished at the end of this phase.

Phase five brings a dramatic change to the campus. This phase builds a new administrative building at a new entrance off University Drive (located at the existing traffic light at the corner of Old Chapel Hill Road and University Drive) and a new two-story 30,000-square-foot classroom building housing an anticipated 25 classrooms. At the end of this phase, the 100 building (the current Middle School administration area and fifth-grade pod), 200 building (currently housing languages, language arts, history, math and Middle School learning specialists) and the 300 building (currently housing the Middle School bookstore, math, history, science and band classrooms) will be demolished, traffic flow around campus will change significantly and a new quad will become the center of campus.

Phase six, the final phase, builds a new regulation-size gymnasium and renovates the existing gym to be used for Extended Day, PE classes and other auxiliary services, such as tutoring.

Phases three, four and six are each anticipated to last one year; phase five is planned to last two years.

The exteriors and interiors of the buildings have not yet been designed, but with the approval of the master plan, the design process can now begin. The intent is to retain a fifth-grade pod; this important transitional environment for the youngest Middle School students was identified as a strength of the current campus during the planning process. Faculty and administration have indicated a desire to group academic departments together in the new buildings in order to foster faculty collaboration that is so critical to curricular connection.

The total estimated range of cost for the Middle School master plan is $29.5 million to $31.6 million. The Upper School STEM & Humanities Center is budgeted for $12 million, bringing the total cost range for the Durham Academy Campus Plan to $41.5 million to $43.6 million. A comprehensive campaign to provide a significant portion of the funding is in the planning stages.

This financing plan combines leveraging debt with philanthropic giving, using the same strategy that built the Preschool and Lower School 17 years ago. There is $23 million in bond financing available for the DA Campus Plan.

The Board of Trustees is planning to launch a capital campaign in 2018 to support the DA Campus Plan. As part of the exploratory process to gauge the DA community’s interest and readiness to support a campaign, we are asking all parents, faculty and staff to participate in an online, anonymous survey. The survey invitation will be emailed on Monday, and the survey will remain open until Monday, Nov. 13.

To learn more about the DA Campus Plan, explore the Middle School master plan, view additional images of each phase and read the preliminary case for support outlining the proposed campaign’s priorities and objectives, visit