Pace Academy history teacher Helen Smith is eager to make the move into a new high school building next year.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “We need more room.”
Not that it will be easy. Her classroom is crammed with pictures and teaching props she’s collected over the four decades she’s taught at Pace. She’s already started packing.
“We move at the end of the school year. That’s why I had to start the cleanup,” she said. “Forty years of accumulation? I couldn’t do that in one school year. No way.”
Once this school year ends, Smith and other high school teachers at Pace will pack up and move out so the school’s 51-year-old high school building can be demolished.
In its place, school officials plan to build a 75,000-square-foot, four-story building that will nearly double the space available to the high school.
“Our building doesn’t meet our needs …,” said Mike Gannon, head of Pace’s upper school. “ Right now, we’re running a 75,000-square-foot operation in a 40,000-square-foot building.”
The $32 million project will include more than just classrooms. It will feature updated science labs, a 1,500-square-foot, multi-story “commons” area designed to give students and teachers a place to meet and chat, and be built in a design that reflects the “castle” look of the rest of the 54-year-old private school on West Paces Road.
“It’s really time the Upper School matched the rest of the campus,” said Pace communications director Caitlin Goodrich.
Fred Assaf, head of school at Pace, said the school does not plan to add students once the new building opens. The school now enrolls 110 Upper School students and about 1,080 students total, from kindergarten through 12th grade.
“We are not building any more space than we need,” Assaf said. “That, in itself, really emphasizes how undersized the current high school is.”
The new school, Assaf said, will give Pace “a facility that will serve us for the next 75 years.”
In August, Pace officially launched a capital campaign to raise the money for the project. By Aug. 30, the school announced that it had raised more than $22 million of that, after a major contribution from Atlanta Falcons owner and Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank’s family and contributions from all members of the school’s faculty.
The new school will be named The Arthur M. Blank Family Upper School, Pace said. In a press release, Blank said, “This new Upper School facility will ensure the school’s continued excellence for generations to come.”
School officials say they plan to start construction by the beginning of the next school year and to complete the project in time for the 2014 school year. Next year, Upper School classes will be taught in modular units set up on the school practice fields, school officials said.
Once the new building opens, history teacher Smith said she’ll miss sharing a hall with English teachers. “We work together so much. There’s a lot of collaboration,” she said. “I hope being on different floors is not going to change that.”
Still, she welcomes the new building. So does her across-the-hall neighbor, English teacher Don DuPree.
“It’s magnificent, even though we’re going to probably lose some of our eccentricity,” said DuPree, whose classroom now is dominated by a multi-level stage that students can use to enact scenes from Shakespeare. “It’s much needed.”