Renovations at Lab will allow for growthBy William Harms
The Laboratory Schools, one of the nation’s leading independent schools, will undergo a massive redesign and remodeling program intended to improve learning for all students of the nursery through 12th-grade institution, the University announced Monday.
Boosted by a $10 million gift from the Earl Shapiro family and the approval of the University Board of Trustees, the campus transformation is part of an ambitious plan to enhance Lab’s rich and rigorous education and make it available to more students.
The search is now under way for an architect who will design a new early childhood center and renovate existing buildings by tailoring them to the needs of students and preserving their much-loved historic character.
As those facilities become available, the schools will increase enrollment, make more financial aid available and commit new resources to professional development for faculty—an approach aimed at improving the learning environment at every level.
The improvements are the result of a master plan, begun more than two years ago, that tackled a growing list of challenges while looking broadly at the opportunities for the school in decades to come.
The University Board of Trustees has authorized the Lab Schools to seek an architect to prepare plans for the project, which will expand space for classes and programs that enrich the educational experience, such as art instruction, and realign the program to meet the developmental as well as educational needs of the students.
“These improvements will enhance a superior educational experience by matching learning with high-quality facilities, while making that rich and rigorous education available to more of the area’s best students, from the University community as well as from families throughout the area,” said President Zimmer.
The oldest building, Blaine Hall, opened in 1903. Other buildings in the Schools’ quadrangle at 59th Street and Kenwood Avenue are a middle school, Belfield Hall and Judd Hall. The schools also operate nursery school buildings on Woodlawn Avenue and a gymnasium complex on Kenwood Avenue.
The planned renovation and construction will build on the strengths of the Schools, which pioneered the progressive education approach that transformed schools throughout the country. That approach encourages attention to the developmental stages of learning so students are introduced to new concepts at appropriate points in ways that encourage inquiry and maximize understanding.
The Laboratory Nursery School program provides an important foundation, and a new early childhood center will target the specific needs of children in their most crucial years. Nursery school buildings on Woodlawn will remain part of that program.
Projected growth, together with expanded financial aid, will make the Lab Schools’ education available to more students throughout the area, while building the diverse student body that is central to the Lab Schools’ learning experience.
The growth will allow the Lab Schools to enroll more students connected to the University community, strengthening a bond that is unique to the Chicago area.
“We will also increase our commitment to professional development and bolster the inspired teaching that is at the heart of Lab Schools’ mission,” said Director David Magill. “Our enhanced facilities, along with a reorganization of divisions around sound pedagogical practices, will help the schools recruit from among the best teachers in the nation.”
The Schools recently announced a $10 million gift from the family of Earl Shapiro. Shapiro, who died Thursday, May 26, said at the time of the announcement that the gift was a tribute to how the schools impacted the lives of his family members, as well as people around the world.
American philosopher and educator John Dewey founded the Laboratory Schools in 1896 to test and demonstrate his then-radical educational theories. Currently, the Laboratory Schools serve 1,750 students in nursery through high schools.