BBA building project moving forward

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MANCHESTER — Burr and Burton Academy expects to start construction soon on a 25,000-square-foot center for integrated studies, the school announced last week in a letter to the community.

"After extensive conversations and analysis with our construction firm, DEW, we have reached the decision that we will move forward as planned with the construction of Founders Hall" — the new center — "now rather than later," Headmaster Mark Tashjian and Board Chairman Seth Bongartz wrote in the May 7 letter. "We expect to break ground in the coming weeks."

The three-story structure will be built against the hill that divides Frelinghuysen Field and a parking lot on the independent school's campus. A courtyard will link the hall to the existing Seminary Building.

Founders Hall will house English and social studies classrooms, as well as a maker space and a common area featuring a grand, central staircase, according to information released by the school last year. A room with a view of the bell tower atop the Seminary Building will occupy the highest floor.

"The project remains true to its original conception," Tashjian wrote in an email on Tuesday. "Architecturally, the goal is to look to the future while honoring the past, and we think the current design captures that vision beautifully."

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The school has described the building as "the centerpiece" of The Rowland Project, a $20 million effort that includes other capital improvements. A message from Tashjian to the community last September forecast an April 2020 groundbreaking for the hall.

School officials acknowledged in the letter that construction "could get shut down" in the event of an uptick in cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. DEW, the construction firm, "has developed a thoughtful plan to deal with this possibility, and we have determined that the financial risk associated with a possible shut down is manageable," the officials wrote.

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DEW also has developed a plan "for how to manage the construction site with enhanced safety procedures to ensure social distancing and minimize physical contact," according to the letter. The firm, which has offices in Vermont and New Hampshire, has previously completed projects at The Putney School and Dartmouth College, among other institutions.

In their letter, Tashjian and Bongartz also highlighted the project's prospective economic impact, noting that the school has "the opportunity to put people back to work."

"There will be millions of dollars worth of wages embedded in this project, and those dollars will go right back into the Vermont economy," the officials wrote. "This project will unquestionably help Vermont get back on its feet."

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"We recognize that some might consider it extravagant to build a new building in the face of so much uncertainty and economic hardship," Tashjian and Bongartz wrote in the letter. "We recognize our good fortune of having a project that is fully funded thanks to Wendy and Barry Rowland, and while some might criticize this action, we can't see how it helps our students, faculty and staff, or communities to keep this funding in a savings account rather than putting it — and therefore people — to work."

The Rowlands committed $20 million to the project in March 2018. Barry Rowland died in June 2018, and Wendy died this past December.

The Founders Hall project's design team includes Kyle Murphy, an architect who graduated from BBA in 2007, and ZGF Architects.

The Village of Manchester's Development Review Board approved the project at a special meeting on August 22, 2019, according to minutes.

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