By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
Bishop Ireton High School officially unveiled its new academic center, the school’s biggest upgrade since it was founded in 1964, at a ribbon cutting ceremony on Monday.
The four-story academic center is the major component of the school’s The Future is Now Campaign. The project cost more than $28 million and is being funded by private donors, the Diocese of Arlington and a school loan, B.I. spokesperson Josh Goldman said. The renovation project also includes a new front entrance and auxiliary gym.
The catholic high school, located at 201 Cambridge Road, broke ground on the project in October 2018, although design and financial planning began well before then. The academic center opened to students at the start of 2020.
The 40,000-square-foot academic center was added onto the southwest end of the high school, in the location of the former living quarters of the oblate priests and brothers who lived and worked at B.I. in its early years. A major goal of the new academic building was to bring B.I. up-to-date on technology and to offer a more extensive STEM curriculum, Head of School Kathleen McNutt said.
“The idea of that time was, if we were to focus on STEM, on the science and technology needs for the school, that would be the starting point … to be able to look at state-of-the-art labs and look at the ability to provide engineering instruction,” McNutt said.
There are separate classrooms in the new academic center for physics, engineering, chemistry and biology labs, each equipped for the needs of each field of science. The physics lab, for instance, has power outlets hanging from the ceilings so that students and teachers have flexibility to move tables and use equipment throughout the room.
“We used to be really limited on the space,” Sonia Faletti, a B.I. physics and engineering teacher, said. “It used to be that there was one physics lab and so most of the physics classes met in the physics lab, but some of them met in the regular classroom. … Nobody has to take science in a regular classroom anymore.”
B.I. senior Maria Zakhem said that since moving into the new classrooms at the beginning of the year, her A.P. physics class has already gotten to perform a variety of new and exciting labs.
“The more room and the more equipment that we have makes for a lot of fun labs,” Zakhem said. “We actually did this lab where we had to hang a string connected to a motion airplane, and we had to go measure the length of the string and the radius, and we were measuring the velocity of the airplane going in a circle.”
Most of the new science classes are located on the fourth floor of the new building, while the engineering lab is situated on the first floor.
Along with introducing additional technology to B.I., the new building adds a variety of communal spaces and increases the school’s capacity from 825 to 925 students, McNutt said. The second floor features a new cafeteria more than double the size of the old one, while the third floor is dedicated to a new media center complete with a library, AV studio and collaborative learning spaces.
While B.I.’s expansion wasn’t driven by the same capacity crunch the city’s public schools are experiencing, the school has grown over the years.
“Our cafeteria was from 1964,” McNutt said. “It was from the original time, for an all-boys school of about 400. So that area didn’t grow with the growing change of Bishop Ireton, especially since it went coeducational.”
Another area designed to meet B.I.’s growing needs is its just-built auxiliary gym. Separate from the new academic building, the auxiliary gym was repurposed from spaces that used to be a stage, boiler room and various storage areas. The auxiliary gym is home to a full volleyball court, training room and fitness center.
“[The auxiliary gym] allows for us to be able to have multiple events happening at the same time,” McNutt said. “We might be able to have one sporting event happening in the main gym but have a volleyball game happening in the auxiliary gym. … I will say that’s kind of the hidden gem of the project, simply because it was part of existing space.”
The new entrance to the school was an addition to existing space, designed, in part, to revamp security measures. While the former entrance was relatively open, the new entrance funnels visitors directly to a check-in point.
“The new secure entrance is definitely in answer to what’s been happening across the country,” McNutt said. “All schools, catholic schools included, have had to look at our entrance processes and how are we protecting our students to be able to go on with their school day properly without having to worry about who’s in and out of the building.”
Thus far, the B.I. community appears to be excited about its makeover.
“I have been overwhelmed with the excitement of the student body and of parents and of alumni, as well as prospective families,” McNutt said. “I haven’t heard one negative thing. They have loved it. They love their new space.”