St. George’s School
By: Frances Putman
Not long ago, students from St. George’s School in Newport, Rhode Island, found it hard to compete in swimming competitions. They trained in a facility first built in the 1920s, with a 20-yard, four-lane pool situated in a dank basement area without good temperature or humidity control. Although repairs had been made over the years, the facility was old and outdated and in need of a major overhaul.
“Even if repairs were made, it was still a sub-standard pool,” said Robert Ceres, a development officer at the prestigious, non-denominational school. “Other schools didn’t want to come here. It was ridiculous.”
A selective, co-educational school for students in grades nine through 12, St. George’s School is located on 200 acres overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Named for the patron saint of England, the school was established in 1896 by Rev. John Byron Diman, whose goal was to create a school where students could develop their particular gifts as fully as possible, eventually leading to lives of service to the world and to God.
Leaders at St. George’s School had an important decision to make. Would they invest in a new swim complex, or natatorium, or would they discontinue the swim program? Ceres himself was a proponent for building a new pool.
“We’re right on the ocean, and we have a terrific sailing program,” he noted, adding that some programs demand swimming skills for participation. “It’s a good thing to have a pool, to teach kids how to swim.”
Agreeing with him, the administration at St. George’s School decided to move ahead with a new building project. After researching many different construction companies, they chose Stanmar, Inc., located in Sudbury, Mass.
“We liked the looks of the Stanmar projects we had seen, and not just the new ones,” noted Ceres. “We looked at projects they had completed 15 years ago, and they were holding up very well.”
While the new pool was a top priority, the school also desperately needed a campus center with food service area and upgrades to other sports facilities—and somehow all of this needed to tie into the arts center, to which the new facility would connect. Built within the last few years, the arts center was much more modern in style than the Georgian Colonial-style architecture of the buildings on the other side of the campus, creating yet another design challenge.
But Stanmar, which specializes in multi-purpose recreational facilities, was up for the challenge. In the end, the school got a new natatorium with an eight-lane, 25-yard swimming pool and seating for 200 spectators, four new locker rooms and a new campus center with a great room and food service area. The $6.7 million project, encompassing 33,000 square feet of space, took just over a year to complete.
A white brick “orphan” building, which had been used in a variety of ways over the years, was at the center of the building project. Eventually, it would be transformed into the new campus center. New locker rooms would be added, along with the natatorium, and the campus fitness center would be enlarged by about 50 percent. Constructing the pool facility between the campus center and an existing building was one of the biggest challenges Stanmar encountered.
“The courtyard had a narrow opening, which was barely large enough,” noted Art Bodwell, vice president of Stanmar. “The tricky part was how to build the pool and the roof structure within a tight spot.”
The key, he said, was building from the back to the front in phases, rather than the traditional way of working on an entire project at once.
“It was tricky and involved and had to be done at a slow pace,” Bodwell said.
Leaders at St. George’s School had been impressed with the rim-flow style pools that Stanmar had built in other facilities. In these sleek and efficient pools, water comes all the way up to the deck edge. A trough around the outside, concealed with a mesh cover, collects oversplash. Not only are the pools attractive, but they allow for much more deck space, which definitely was a plus in St. George’s case.
Another challenge, which is common in school renovation or addition projects, was simply keeping the campus operating during the construction. Bodwell said much of the heavy work was scheduled during down times, like spring break and summer vacation.
The project, which was completed in fall 2004, has by all accounts been a success. The natatorium and campus center now connect the fitness center and squash courts on one side with the arts center on the other. In the past, the sports facilities next to the arts center didn’t seem to mesh. Now, however, Ceres said each element flows naturally into the next. He sees a natural connection, he said, since many elements of modern dance and theater require strength and athleticism.
“Overall, the construction project has met or exceeded our expectations,” Ceres said. “We are pleased with the results.”
Around St. George’s School, the building project was known as the “Campus Life Project,” meaning it was about more than just a new building. Campus leaders wanted students to have a place to meet, to hang out, swim, exercise and even grab a bite to eat. Especially in a post-9/11 world, Ceres said, administrators wanted students to have a safe place to go on campus and not to feel they always had to leave the school to socialize or have fun.
“I think we really did accomplish this,” Ceres added, noting that students have flocked to the new facility.
Especially popular is the food service area, with heavy wood floors and comfortable and relaxed décor. An oversized sculpture of a dragon—recalling the legend of St. George’s triumph over a dragon—takes center stage in the food court. A warm and inviting traditional-style great room has mahogany wood floors, wood ceiling details and a large fireplace. A game room and individual study carrels are situated around the main room.
Bodwell believes this project was successful largely because of the good fit between the school and the builder. Stanmar specializes in just the type of multi-purpose facility that St. George’s School needed, and with the company’s expertise, it was able to help the school in planning, designing and building the new facility.
As a designer and builder, Stanmar often gets involved with projects early on, helping smaller, private institutions develop plans for building projects, even before needed funding is available.
“The key is for a school to find out what it wants to do, to plan and to budget before approaching donors,” Bodwell said, noting it is easier to get donors on board when specific, concrete plans are laid out on paper for a building project.
About the Builder
Stanmar, Inc., www.stanmar-inc.com, is a third-generation, family-owned design and building firm, founded in 1912. Today, the company is recognized as a leading designer and builder of high-quality, multi-purpose athletic and recreational facilities, arenas, student centers and residence halls. Clients include independent and Christian schools, private colleges and universities, and YMCAs.