by Karen Tracy
When Springside Chestnut Hill Academy’s McCausland Lower School and Commons opens its doors to students on the first day of the 2019-2020 school year, it will mark the completion one of the most significant building projects in the Chestnut Hill area in recent years and one of the most successful fundraising efforts in the school’s history. It will also close out Phase II of the school’s ambitious and comprehensive campus master plan.
Perched on 10 acres adjacent to the Wissahickon watershed, the McCausland Lower School and Commons was specifically created for the school’s pre-K through 4th grade learning experience distinguished by a gender-tailored education and a rigorous curriculum both inside and outside the classroom.
“This new space is purposely designed and placed so that our youngest students can actively discover and learn about the world around them,” said Dr. Steve Druggan, SCH head of school.
The 74,420-square foot interior space of the McCausland Lower School has been positioned to take advantage of the vistas that surround the entire building including the school’s historic Wissahickon Inn, the Drum Moir estate and the steeple of the Church of St. Martin-in-the- Fields, all of which owe a debt of gratitude to Henry Howard Houston for his vision in suburban planning, land conservation, historic preservation, and philanthropy in Chestnut Hill.
For years, Lower School cubbies have been topped with brightly colored rubber boots allowing our youngest students to get outside regularly during the school day, using the Wissahickon woods as an outdoor classroom. Now, from anywhere you stand in the new Lower School, there is a view of the woods and easy access to this natural resource. Lower School students enjoy a robust environmental education curriculum that has produced unique play spaces, woodland-based research projects and ongoing stewardship of the park system, maintaining trails and the natural habitat of its indigenous plants and animals.
Features in the McCausland Lower School include an entrance hallway with a welcoming fireplace echoing the one in the Wissahickon Inn; a dining hall that supports waste reduction and recycling in keeping with the school’s commitment to sustainability; classroom furnishings and layouts that accommodate both independent and collaborative work, including reading nooks, storage for ongoing projects, and both relaxed and formal work seating; a dedicated maker space for fabrication, coding and prototyping; multiple outdoor playscapes, and a natural granite amphitheater tucked in the woods.
Head of Lower School Douglas Wainwright is excited to be moving into a facility that benefits so many constituents in the school, but especially the Lower School students.
“The McCausland Lower School affords our youngest students that homey, cozy feel that works best for them within our unique single-sex environment,” he said. “It also enhances the opportunity for our students to engage in interdisciplinary projects which are at the heart of our program. Our Lower School faculty will be able to collaborate within teams and across disciplines to engage in pedagogical discussions directly impacting their students. Parents, too, will reap the benefits of ample off-street parking and streamlined drop-off and pick up procedures.”
While the building is named for the lead donors, the McCausland family, there are also more than 400 additional donors who have made contributions towards the $34 million goal. (The school is in the final stages of fundraising for the project.) Their philanthropy will be visible throughout the building and grounds and stands as a testament to the tremendous loyalty and generosity of the SCH community.
The McCauslands – Peter and Bonnie, their children Chris and Elizabeth, and their grandchildren – were present when the first shovel went in the ground in June 2018.
At that time, Peter said: “This gift is a vote of confidence in the school and its administration for the great job they do, with a sincere thank you to the people who make this community so special. It’s a wonderful community and we are happy to be able to support it.”
In addition to the new McCausland Lower School and Commons, the completion of Phase II of the campus master plan will include a new entrance to the Middle School building on the site of the 1969 Lower School building that was razed in early June.
Doors open to students on Sept. 3, and members of the community are invited to an open house on Sunday, Oct. 20.