June 2017 - An Adventure With Construction

When Mary Hammett Lewis, Park’s founding headmistress, wrote her memoirs, she titled them An Adventure with Children. If I were to similarly chronicle my last three years at Park, I would be sorely tempted to title the piece “An Adventure with Construction.”
A Field
As I write this, I have an interesting view out my office window of a “naked” Karrer Field, which is currently comprised of compacted earth and drainage gravel that is awaiting topsoil and turf. We are in the middle of a six-week project that is the result of a wonderful partnership with neighboring Daemen College. In return for a substantial investment in the field that widens it, flattens it, and provides drainage and irrigation, the College now has a home for its men’s and women’s NCAA Division II soccer program for the next eight years. Not just any home, but what will probably be the nicest natural turf soccer field in Western New York!

Our two schools have worked out a mutually beneficial agreement that will allow both of our soccer programs to use Karrer Field and rent it out to other organizations as well. We now find ourselves looking at other opportunities, both in academics and athletics, in which we can find similar “win-win” arrangements.

The last three weeks of construction have been exciting for all of us on campus, with earth moving equipment engaged in a daily mechanical ballet that has quickly transformed the landscape. I have come across numerous classes watching this progress and, true to our philosophy of active learning, watched the Karrer Field construction become part of several units of study around campus. We particularly enjoyed a visit from the project’s chief construction engineer to a lower school morning meetings, in which he answered numerous thoughtful and creative questions from our youngest learners. 

Prekindergarten class watching Karrer Field construction

A Building
All of this field construction activity is just an appetizer, however. This week, I will attend what I hope is our last Town of Amherst planning board meeting. If it is, we will have final approval of The Knopp-Hailpern Science Center engineering drawings. Once this hurdle is cleared, we enter into a permitting and bidding phase for the project, with an anticipated construction start date of August 2017.

When building construction begins it will be the (hopefully) final chapter in a wonderful story with a few plot twists thrown in to make it interesting.

What has now come to be known as The Knopp-Hailpern Center was first conceived in board of trustees meetings in 2010. The need for a new science facility came from numerous conversations regarding possible future directions for Park. From these discussions we came to believe that our students would benefit from more STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) education and that Stone Hall, which has been a wonderful building for teaching science for more than sixty years, was in need of an update in order to accommodate a more modern approach to Science Education.

Park’s Board of Trustees and administration explored renovating Stone, and ultimately determined that it was much more cost-effective to construct a new building. With this in mind, a group of science-minded advisors was formed that both toured local science facilities and spent some time on campus conceptualizing how a new science building might work within our physical space and enhance science instruction.

After a good deal of thought and discussion, a compelling theme emerged that the new science building should serve as both a venue for STEAM activities and as “gateway” to the campus pond and marsh. These two physical resources particularly captured the attention and imagination of the building advisory group as they are unique to the Park School campus and represent a tremendous opportunity for teaching students about the natural environment.

With the “gateway” theme fully embraced by all constituents, Park engaged Cannon Design to create some concept drawings from which to estimate costs and fundraise. We then embarked on a multiyear journey educating constituents about the benefits of a new science building. We were blessed with an overwhelmingly positive response to this vision. Along the way, we also came to realize that the building should honor two of Park’s legendary educators: Jacky Knopp and Raoul Hailpern.

Fast-forward three years to the 2015-16 school year in which we had raised nearly 80% of the estimated $3.7 million needed for the project. With this milestone reached, we engaged the whole school community – students, faculty, trustees, parents, and administrators – in a year-long series of meetings with both building and landscape architects to design and finalize the program for the building.

The building and surrounding site that eventually took shape through this process were radically different and much better than the initial concepts. New and exciting ideas emerged from faculty and students that were not part of the original thinking regarding how this building functions and relates to the campus. These ideas allow us to be better environmental stewards of our campus and create new learning areas that expand environmental education for all of Park’s students, partner organizations such as Buffalo Charter Schools, institutions, and the community at large.

View from Field Station

A Field Station
During the refinement process for the Knopp-Hailpern Center, it became clear that in order to advance science education for our youngest learners a dedicated space was needed for active and sometimes messy activities. In our planning conversations, this space was designed with a particular focus on addressing the unique needs of Park’s Prekindergarten through Grade 6 students. The Field Station will have areas for “wet” and “dry” work, glass garage doors to expand and open the space in good weather, and is sited closest to the pond for easy access back and forth.

View of stream up to Knopp-Hailpern Center, Hamlin, and the Circle

A Stream
One of the most exciting ideas was centered on remediating Park’s pond, which has steadily declined over the last few years due to infiltration by an abundance of groundwater nutrients from the surrounding neighborhood. In response to this, Park engaged an outside expert to study the pond and develop a remediation plan. One of the suggestions provided was to build an engineered recirculating stream, which captured our collective imagination as both a way to make the pond more viable and provide a new and exciting natural resource for the campus.

With this in mind, Park plans to create an approximately 350 linear foot long stream mechanically pumped from the pond to a stream head sited next to The Knopp-Hailpern Center. This will allow students to step out of the building and explore both moving water and pools with a variety of organisms that make their homes in each of these habitats. From a landscape perspective, the stream will provide a gateway to the pond and marsh areas of the campus. From an ecological perspective, an engineered stream will improve the health of the Park School pond by recirculating water that is pumped from the pond and then gravity-fed through a stream way, oxygenating the water and revitalizing the pond.
An Escarpment and a Plaza
If you have been following this project over the last few years you will recall that we held a groundbreaking ceremony last spring. It turns out that this was a bit premature and that we should have actually broken the ground to determine what might be under our proposed building site before declaring victory. As we moved into the preliminary engineering studies for the building, it was discovered that the originally proposed site for the Knopp-Hailpern building sits upon an escarpment of “durable bedrock.” Rather than blasting and removing thousands of cubic feet of bedrock to construct the building, Park’s building and landscape architects literally went back to the drawing boards to conduct a cost/benefit analysis and revise our plans.

After significant study and discussion in the fall, a revised plan was developed that sites the building closer to the pond and on friendlier ground. While this is much more cost-effective than blasting the original site, it is not without additional cost. We found ourselves in need of a way to access the building, which our landscape architect took as an opportunity to create a plaza that ties the new building seamlessly into the surrounding campus.

The Knopp-Hailpern Center, stream, and plaza

Another Quiet Phase
In a capital campaign, the “quiet phase” of fundraising is done at the beginning, with major donors helping an organization get significantly close to its goal before making a more public appeal. Park followed this model and received remarkable support from close friends of the School who believe that The Knopp-Hailpern Center marks an exciting new chapter in the school’s history (Thank you!).

Not surprisingly, some of the new ideas developed during the design phase and the unanticipated need to move the building added about $800,0000 of additional costs to the project. Undeterred by this, the incredible and intrepid group of volunteers who have been shepherding this project from conception to reality embraced the final design as an opportunity to create a campus resource unlike any that currently exist in Western New York, and dedicated this year to making it happen. Our capital campaign committee is led by Board President Marty Berardi and Bob Montgomery ’55. They are supported by an incredible team including Gerry Cornish, Peter Dow ’50, Patty Cohen Gelman ’66, Gordon Gross ’49, Mark Karrer ’73, and Trudy Mollenberg.

Making it Happen
Making it happen involved two separate pathways that will converge with a completed Knopp-Hailpern Center. The first is all of the various details needed to move from concept to actual construction. Along the way, we have learned about all that goes into this process, from stormwater management to archaeological inquiry, to investigating century-old campus infrastructure, all of which has truly been an adventure.

The other, quieter path, has been to raise additional funds to realize our increased ambitions. Once again, key members of the Park community have been incredibly generous with their support of this project, and I am pleased to report that we are $275,000 away from raising all the funds needed to complete the project, including the stream activity described above.

How You Can Help
First, please continue to be patient as we move through these final steps! As campaign co-chair Bob Montgomery ’55 said when we first learned of the site issues, “we’re building for the next 50 years, so let’s get it right even if it takes a little longer and costs more.”

Second, as we approach our fundraising goal, please consider helping push us over the top. Pavers in the plaza are a nice way to honor a loved one, teacher, or simply include your name and graduating year. And, of course, we would welcome any and all philanthropic support to realize our final goal.


Finally, should you be involved in building trades in Buffalo, construction bids are currently being gathered and we would gratefully entertain any gift-in-kind or preferential pricing activities that you might wish to donate to this project.

I look forward to celebrating the completion of The Knopp-Hailpern Center prior to the beginning of the 2018-19 school year!

    • Head of School Chris Lauricella

Recent Head's Letters

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Download a Head's Letter (.pdf)

Founded in 1912, The Park School of Buffalo has the distinction of being one the oldest Progressive schools in the country. Park is an independent, co-educational school serving approximately 300 students enrolled in prekindergarten (3 and 4 year olds), lower school (kindergarten through grade 4), middle school (grades 5 through 8), and upper school (grades 9 through 12). Park is uniquely situated on 34 beautiful acres in Amherst, New York. The School’s campus – formerly a farm – includes a pond, marsh, gardens, and a greenhouse while being located just minutes from downtown Buffalo and easily accessible from many communities throughout Western New York. Park’s educational philosophy embraces active, student-centered learning, delivered by exceptional teachers who design and continuously update a robust curriculum. Faculty members approach each student as an individual within the context of a kind and respectful community. From the preschool years through college preparation, The Park School of Buffalo helps learners realize their own unique potentials and prepares them to be confident, successful, life-long learners.

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