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Press Release: Holderness School Begins Construction of Two New Dormitories

Rick Carey
Ground has just been broken for a large construction project in Holderness. The outcome will be, by next fall, two new 24-bed dormitories for the Holderness School—and in the meantime, 100 full-time construction jobs in the Lakes Region.
Ground has just been broken for a large construction project in Holderness. The outcome will be, by next fall, two new 24-bed dormitories for the Holderness School—and in the meantime, 100 full-time construction jobs in the Lakes Region.

"These dormitories will have a transformative impact on our school," says Holderness Head of School Phil Peck. "It's important to understand, though, that we're not increasing enrollment. We're going to stay right at 275 students. Instead this is about increasing the quality of residential life for our students all across the campus."

Peck says that this $7 million initiative is the result of a philosophy of residential life that has come more sharply into focus at Holderness since the 1980s.

"We don't view life in the dorms as something that fills time between classes and athletics and other activities. Instead we view it as another part of our curriculum," Peck explains. "Our mission insists that we provide our students with a ‘caring community,' something to lend support to a youngster as he or she assumes challenges in those other settings, takes risks, and occasionally fails. Inside the dorms is where we learn how communities work and how they sustain the human spirit."

But why so many new beds in a school that already has enough beds and doesn't wish to expand?

"We learned something very interesting in the 1980s, when we shifted to co-education," explains Peck. "We didn't have a lot of girls at first, and so we couldn't build large dorms like we had for the boys. Instead we built faculty homes that had wings attached to them for small numbers of girls. And over the years we've found that the high faculty-to-student ratio found in those dorms simply works better. The teachers are happier, the kids are happier and seem to learn better, and we find that the sorts of friendships that endure for a lifetime occur more often in those settings."

Peck adds that a ratio of about 8:1 seems to work best. He also adds that he is very fortunate in the wishes of his faculty. "I hear all the time from other heads of school that their faculty members in dorms are anxious to move off campus," he says, "but at Holderness I've actually got a waiting list of off-campus families who want to become dorm parents, so long as it involves that manageable number of kids."

The new dormitories will be built on the opposite side of Rt. 175 from most of the buildings on campus, but a walking path under the road will provide for safe foot traffic back and forth. At 24 beds each, they will be as large as any of the older boys' dormitories on campus, but they will include connected homes for six faculty families.

Peck notes that the buildings will combine the best elements of a large-dorm setting—diversity, community, and living space—with the intimacy of the small-dorm setting, with only six students in each of the four hallways.

They will be designed and built so as to earn LEED certification for environmental sustainability, with solar panels on the roof and solar-powered hot water. "The families and students who live there will be asked to sign pledges in regard to personal habits of resource conservation," Peck says, "and I also envision a continual competition between the two buildings as to whose residents can make do with less by way of energy consumption."

The new dorms will additionally free up space in the older dorms for new faculty housing and living rooms. That will eventually allow the entire campus, for the first time in school history, to achieve that 8:1 ratio in its residential life.

"That's the truly exciting part of this project for us," says Peck. "At Holderness we continue to invest in what we call the multiple-point-of-contact model with our faculty. By that we mean that the same teacher can be a kid's history teacher in the morning, soccer coach in the afternoon, and dorm parent at night. And by bringing a lot more adults into the community in proximity with these kids, we can create the sort of residential environment that really makes a whole village available to raise each child."

He also adds that current circumstances make this an ideal time for new building projects. "This is a time of relatively low construction costs and available resources," Peck says. "We also benefit from an economy of scale by doing two buildings at once."

The timing is good for the friends of the school as well.

"We're especially pleased that we'll be able to do this as the result of philanthropic gifts, and not financing," says Peck. "It's a great endorsement from the members of our community, though we still have money to raise for these two dorms. And then we'll have renovations to perform on our older dorms, and money to raise for that. This is just the first stage."

The dorms are being designed by Samyn-D'Elia Architects of Ashland, and they will be built by Milestone Engineering and Construction of Concord.
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