STRATTON - Headmaster Chris Kaltsas has been working with architecture and design team David Cotton and Paul Belaski to develop a new building at the Stratton Mountain School.

"This is the crown jewel of finishing the campus," said Kaltsas. Construction on the Patti Kaltsas Education, Arts and Student Center began on May 1. The building is in memory of Chris Kaltsas' wife who died in 2010.

"My wife Patti was an artist," said Chris Kaltsas. "She and I had always recognized that an arts curriculum was critical to any school. It's part of the developmental, educational process and although we do have an arts program, it's pretty watered down. We wanted to enhance that." On the first floor, there will be an auditorium that will seat 220 people and an art gallery, along with a student center. In the student center, there will be a television, kitchen, snack bar, ping pong table and a lounge.

A walk out deck will be built off the back of the center where there will be a view of the school's soccer and lacrosse fields. The ground level, below the first floor, will have four normal size classrooms, an art studio, book store and a room that may be used as a yoga dance studio. There will be showers and bathrooms down here, too.

Kaltsas said this building will be a way to welcome the community, not just people from the school or the slopes.

Kaltsas wants to eventually have art shows, adult art education classes and executive speakers, once construction is completed. The speaker service may be held once a month or so.

Structural insulated panels, on the inside of the building, were an outcome of Cotton meeting with the Stratton Planning Commission. It would make the building more energy efficient.

"It sort of triggered that we wanted to make the building meet, not only the Vermont State Building Energy Code, but beyond that," said Cotton. "We've done projects with structural insulated paneling before and that's how we determined that would be a good way of going."

Cotton-Belaski Architectural Services has been in business for about 20 years and has done several community building projects, including the Rockingham Recreation Center, the Wilmington Town Garage, Burton Car Wash in Brattleboro and the Newbrook Fire Department building. For this project, Wylie Construction is the general contractor and Foard Panel is the sub-contractor, responsible for building the shell. By the end of summer, around Sept. 21, construction should be completed, including the shell, windows, roof and siding.

After Patti Kaltsas' death, Chris Kaltsas began receiving donations in his wife's name and started to think about the possibility of creating this building. "There was an outpouring of support when my wife passed away," he said. "The support was so significant, I came upon an understanding that we could probably fund the building."

Chris Kaltsas started meeting with Cotton shortly after receiving funds, realizing that his plan for the school could be accomplished. "We always had an arts building defined on our master Act 250 plan and it was part of the last phase to develop on campus," Kaltsas said. "I was introduced to David who then introduced me to Paul. Together, we sat and began talking about what our ideas were and how to program the building to get the maximum developmental value to enhance the experience for the kids."

He told the Reformer that currently the Stratton Mountain School doesn't have an adequate "all school meeting environment." The students meet in the dining room, which is too small and can be noisy at times.

Kaltsas also said that his wife would have appreciated the new building and its combined uses for the school's students.

"Patti was an interior designer, first and foremost. She helped pick out the colors and the motifs (at the school)," said Kaltsas.

She was into water colors and established an annual tradition that lasted 16 years, where she would paint a school rock, picked out by students. Each year, there would be a different theme for the school.

The rock would then be presented at the Headmaster's Dinner, which occurs the night before graduation in June.

The Stratton Mountain School currently has 125 students. Around 75 students stay at the campus overnight and the rest return home after school. There is a program for students in grades seven to nine, where they can start in the beginning of the winter and leave at the end of March. "It's tutorial in nature," said Kaltsas. "It gives us an opportunity to see how committed they may be to our program."

He mentioned that they get about 90 percent of those students to return each year. Stratton Mountain School is known for its students going on to Ivy league colleges. This year, three students went to Dartmouth, one went to Harvard and one went to Cornell, among others who went to distinguished schools.

"This isn't just about skiing and fun. We expect them to be hard-working and focused and able to balance the ardors of a program that is very serious about its athletics as well as its academics," said Kaltsas. "These kids love to compete and win on the hill in their sport as much as they do in the classroom. They want to get straight A's."

Kaltsas has been Headmaster at Stratton Mountain School for 17 years. The school itself has been around for 41 years. For more information on the school or to help fundraise for the Patti Kaltsas Education, Arts and Student Center, visit gosms.org or call the school at 802-297-1886.