Burr and Burton gifted $20 million

MANCHESTER — A $20 million donation to Burr and Burton Academy — one of the largest philanthropic gifts ever made in this state and the largest gift ever to a Vermont secondary school — will be transformative, school leaders say.

The gift from Barry and Wendy Rowland, longtime supporters of the independent school, was announced on Thursday.

The funds will be used to implement The Rowland Project, which officials say will include constructing a new 21st-century classroom building, a new courtyard and green space, a classroom facility at Hildene Meadows/Dene Farm, and other upgrades around the school's 29-acre campus. The projects were described as phase one of a long-term master plan for the campus.

"I feel very excited we get to imagine the future and turn it into reality," Headmaster Mark Tashjian said on Friday. "A lot of people get to think about the future. Not many get to make it happen in the way we're going to be able to."

Barry Rowland said in a statement: "We see this as an investment in kids, an investment in our communities, an investment in the state of Vermont, and an investment in Governor [Phil] Scott's vision of making Vermont an education destination. Wendy and I love this community and believe it deserves the absolute best." He added that he and his wife "have confidence Burr and Burton will make good on our investment."

The student population is growing as new families move to the area, according to Seth Bongartz, chairman for the BBA Board of Trustees. There's a need for more space to accommodate more students, he said.

"But we're also trying to build a building and a campus that is truly unique and truly geared to the 21st century," he said.

The Grade 9 to 12 school serves 13 surrounding "sending" towns. About 715 students now attend the school's 30-acre campus; at least 70 are international students, according to the school's website. Tashjian said, given student growth, the school could have some 750 students next year.

Gov. Phil Scott, in a statement, thanked the Rowlands "for investing in Vermont's children, which is an investment in our future." Scott continued: "Their remarkable generosity will benefit kids and make our communities stronger. As we seek to make Vermont an education destination, attracting more working families to our state, this gift demonstrates the value and quality of education in Vermont."

The part-time Londonderry residents have made significant charitable gifts to the 189-year-old school. In the summer of 2007, the Rowlands donated $10 million, a gift that was at the time itself the largest donation to a secondary school in the state's history.

They established in 2008 the $25 million Rowland Foundation, which provides fellowships to Vermont secondary school teachers. On the Burr and Burton campus, they funded construction of the Rowland Center, an addition to the E. H. Henry Gymnasium, as well as Birchbrook and Founders Hall. They also helped fund the startup of the Student Success Program, which supports students aspiring to be the first in their family to attend college, and are supporters of the Annual Fund.

The new donation is at least the third largest in Vermont in recent history: A database by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, a magazine covering nonprofits, has it tied with a 2007 gift to Bennington College from Susan Paris Borden and Robert Borden.

Barry Rowland is a retired chief administrative officer of Eaton Vance, a financial-management firm in Boston, and has served on the school's Board of Trustees.

Tashjian said he's "truly excited" about the opportunities a new building will bring, given what's known about the science of brain development, best practices and education, and advances in learning technology.

"We're now at a place were we can re-imagine school architecture to support new ways of thinking in education," he said.

Bongartz, who is also president of Hildene, said the new classroom facility there would strengthen the school's programming. A partnership between BBA and the Lincoln family home already gives students hands-on study of ecology, sustainability, farming and agriculture, and more.

Regarding a timeline, both Bongartz and Tashjian said the process won't be rushed.

"If we push the process, we could break ground in 12 months," Tashjian said, adding it's more likely to take place in two years. A "careful, throughtul process" will be carried out. "Let's not rush just for the sake of building it."

Both Bongartz and Tashjian noted that the school's facilities have been constructed entirely through privately-raised funds. Bongartz said the gift continues a "long tradition of saving what would otherwise be significant costs for the communities we serve by raising funds privately" and a "growing student population "is a strong endorsement of school choice and independent governance."

The school will continue to foster an environment that emphasizes a strong student and teacher relationship, Tashjian said.

BBA, he said, "has a long tradition of having a strong sense of community... I want that to always be the hallmark of the school. Whatever we do, we need to have a grounded sense of community."

Ed Damon can be reached at edamon@benningtonbanner.com, at @edamon_banner on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 111.

Note: This story was amended at 12 p.m. on March 19, 2018 to correct the grades taught at BBA.


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