Plans for a New Schoolhouse

An open letter from Head of School Paul Burke to the Nightingale-Bamford School community:

Imagine a new schoolhouse. Tie it to a vision. Connect it to our essence. Articulate clearly how the acquisition of additional square feet could translate to an enhanced educational experience for Nightingale girls. This was the challenge presented by Board President Nina Joukowsky Köprülü ’79 and our board of trustees in December 2011. With the acquisition of not one but two townhouses directly to the east of our existing schoolhouse, we were given the rare opportunity to rethink every inch of our space.

Thanks to the dedication of trustees committed to our “one schoolhouse” philosophy and their willingness to invest in this project, we are able to add more space while maintaining—and even strengthening—the K–XII community that is a hallmark of the Nightingale experience. Throughout the design process, we have remained grounded in our mission and focused on who we are as a school and a community. Faculty, staff, students, and parents have all been given opportunities to contribute their ideas and perspectives to this project; the final result will reflect thousands of hours of deep thinking about how best to educate the mind and heart of every Nightingale girl.

My long-serving predecessors understood the importance of community to the Nightingale experience—Joan McMenamin often said that “a small school humanizes the vast city that surrounds it” and Dorothy Hutcheson embraced this community with unparalleled energy and purpose—and we are committed to retaining and enhancing important spaces for students and faculty to gather. From an expanded Lower School library allowing for more opportunities for creativity and collaboration to separate spaces for older girls to connect with friends and faculty, our schoolhouse will continue to be a place where community thrives.

Middle School students will have a floor that is truly their own, punctuated by a signature “disconnect to connect” room: in a schoolhouse built for the twenty-first century, our students will learn how technology can create opportunity and enhance their purpose, but they will also internalize the value of being fully present with friends, classmates, and teachers. Upper School girls will have their own space, as well: a spacious new Upper School Commons that will provide a place for them to meet with teachers and connect with one another.

The student center—the busiest room in the schoolhouse—will be redesigned to improve the flow of people within the space and filled with natural light, thanks to the addition of a large window at its east end. Our main library is also being reimagined and expanded to support the role of a library in the modern age. Certainly there will be room for physical books, but increasingly our students need places to study, collaborate, and learn, no matter the source material. With a new reading room under the historic arched windows, group workspaces, a host of individual study areas, and soft seating throughout, our library will be a place of both learning and connection for our students.

Our new space must be forward looking. With two Lower School science labs, newly imagined Middle and Upper School labs, a greenhouse, and the most advanced technology in every classroom, there is an emphasis on science and technology in the new schoolhouse, but not at the expense of the arts, music, languages, and humanities, as we still believe that a broad-based liberal arts curriculum gives our graduates the best chance of approaching the uncertainties of the world. Our design adds new music spaces, larger art studios, and 14 classroom spaces for the humanities and languages, allowing us to tailor spaces specifically to those areas of study. We will even have a “maker space”: a special room equipped with the latest technology, providing a place for our girls to work together on interdisciplinary projects at the intersection of art, technology, and science. Every girl will have every chance to discover and develop her particular interests.

Above all, we will have flexible spaces that allow students to develop their own uses, their own projects, and their own voices. A public speaking theater, a new athletic training and fitness room, a multipurpose blackbox performance space, and the Upper School Commons are but a few examples.

Twenty-five years ago, Nightingale embarked upon an ambitious and comprehensive schoolhouse construction project that required all students, faculty, and staff to vacate the building for two years; many of our readers may remember the “Nightingale diaspora,” as students attended classes in satellite locations all over the Upper East Side. We are grateful for their sacrifice, as the end result of that project was the beautiful, unified schoolhouse that we all enjoy today. Now it is our turn to adapt and expand our space to support the next generation of Nightingale girls, and we are fortunate that we will be able to complete this work with minimal disruption to the day-to-day lives of our students.

The schoolhouse plans embody our absolute commitment to the success of every girl. Studies show improved student performance and attendance rates with increased exposure to natural light, so large windows and glassed walls will bring considerably more light into classrooms and hallways. Creativity and innovation will flourish in our new spaces, as we make room for cross-disciplinary conversations, collaborative work, and student-directed projects.

This schoolhouse expansion is distinct because Nightingale is distinct, and in the pages that follow, you will have the opportunity to see architectural renderings of what is in store. Our mission statement commits us to the success of every girl by educating her heart and her mind, and therein lies our cue. This design is about bringing out the best in every girl in every space at every moment.