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St. John’s Prep opens new middle- and high school academic building

DANVERS — Humility, simplicity, compassion, trust and zeal.

Those five words are carved into massive stone blocks at the front of the new $22.3 million Brother Edward Keefe, C.F.X. Academic Center at St. John’s Prep. They are words that reflect the mission of this building as described by school officials.

The five-floor, 74,000-square-foot high-school academic building contains science, math, computer science and world language classrooms and various computer, physics and chemistry labs.

The building opened for the Sept. 9 start of school at the now grades 6-through-12, Xaverian Brothers-sponsored, Catholic prep school for young men on Spring Street.

This new 30-classroom building contains three computer labs, six science labs and five science “minilabs,” along with high-school administrative offices, which have moved out of Brother Benjamin Hall, now home to St. John’s Prep’s middle school program.

An official ribbon-cutting was scheduled for Wednesday evening during a headmaster’s reception with 500 members of the Prep community in attendance, Headmaster Edward Hardiman said.

It was at this gathering that the name of the building was to be revealed for the first time. The building is named after a former, well-regarded long-time headmaster who served from 1974 to 1989.

The building’s construction provided space to allow the former high-school classroom building, Brother Benjamin Hall, to undergo a $1.9 million renovation so it could be converted into a middle school for 300 students in grades six through 8. St. John’s Prep started the middle school program this year after announcing it two years ago. The school added 36 teachers and counselors to support the program. The high school program is made up of 1,150 students.

The middle school is self-contained within the one building, which got a new dining commons, music room, visual arts rooms, team collaboration rooms, a digital commons and a suite of offices for student counselors.

The school spent two years developing the middle school program, and faculty worked for four weeks in the summer to get it ready. The teachers also provided input during renovations, school officials said.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Aidan Callahan, a seventh grader from Rowley as he and others learned about digital citizenship. “It’s a lot different from other schools. It’s very fun. The teachers are great.”

“I’m getting better at getting used to it,” said Callahan’s classmate Hunter Divirgilio of Lynn, who said he found the teachers to be nice.

St. John’s Prep spent another $265,000 to create a Student Leadership and Learning Commons to provide common areas, academic support, a space for student publications like the newspaper and yearbook, and an office for multicultural affairs, among others. This space is meant to provide student support.

In the spring of 2014, the school constructed new tennis courts adjacent to Cronin Memorial Stadium to replace the courts that were displaced by the construction of the new academic building. The cost of this complex was $960,000.

“Relationships are central to what it means to go to St. John’s Prep,” said Headmaster Edward Hardiman at the conclusion of a tour, outlining why the school put an emphasis on new spaces for students to learn in, collaborate, or just relax.

The more than $25 million in work, financed through tax-exempt bonds, fulfills the first phases of the school’s strategic plan called Prep 20/20, which was announced in May 2013.

The next phase of the campaign seeks to build the school’s endowment to help provide tuition assistance, and the construction of a 78,000 square-foot Wellness Center.

Hardiman said the Kennealy, Byrne and DeSimone families donated $5 million in support of the wellness center initiative and the naming of the academic building for Brother Keefe, who Hardiman said planned to attend Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting.

School officials said the new academic building uses lots of glass, to both bring in natural light and foster a sense of collaboration and openness, school officials said.

During a tour Wednesday morning, iPad-carrying students could be seen huddled in one of two, glass-encased small conference rooms in the two-story Kennealy Commons atrium just inside the front entrance.

The Kennealy Commons also sports a glassed-in robotics lab, so people can see what students and teachers are up to.

The building, constructed by Windover Construction of Beverly and designed in the red brick style of other Prep buildings by Flansburgh Architects of Boston, was designed around an educational philosophy that crosses various disciplines and subject matters.

St. John’s Prep is developing the concept of STREAM education, which builds on the STEM concept of science, technology, engineering and math. STREAM incorporates religious studies and arts and humanities into the mix.

It’s part of the reason why world languages were included in this building along with the science and math, with the thinking that kids learn languages much in the same way as they acquire math skills, said Keith Crowley, principal and sssociate head of school. The top floor of the academic building where teachers have their offices consists of an open floor plan of cubicles to allow teachers to collaborate across disciplines.

Crowley said the boys have made themselves at home in the new building, and a few of those interviewed said they liked it a lot.

“I like there are all kinds of areas you can do homework in,” said Skyler Cummings of Rowley.

“I haven’t been in the (school’s main) library this year because there are so many places to do work,” said Trevor Roy of Merrimac.

Salem Evening News 9.16.2015

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