Expanding the vision: After nearly 2 decades of growth, University High School unveils master plan for campus

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Fairbanks Hall at University High School is 44,000 square feet and contains offices and classrooms. (Submitted photo)

University High School has grown a lot in the 18 years since it opened.

Established in the fall of 2000, the school was made possible through a $1.5 million donation along with other gifts from board members that allowed the private institution to build four modular classrooms and refurbish existing farmhouses on the West 116th Street property in Carmel. There were only 28 students and 10 faculty that first year.

An 18,000-square-foot building was completed the next year, and a 12,000-square-foot addition was complete in 2003. In spring 2007, another new building finally eliminated the need for portable classrooms.

Now, nearly two decades after the first freshman class, the UHS board of directors has completed a master plan for its 115-acre property, which includes a vision of what the campus could become.

The vision includes a new arts building, an outdoor amphitheater, more parking, building expansions, baseball and softball fields, a track and field facility, a soccer field and a cross country course. The vision encompasses 85 acres, leaving a surplus space that could be sold or used for a community partner.

Currently, UHS has 310 students, and the new space could allow it to grow to up to 400, although that might not be in the plan, according to Ashley Crockett-Lohr, UHS director of communications.

“We needed a plan to figure out what we need and don’t need,” she said.

A big part of the plan was to look at the natural environment on the property. Stacey Summitt-Mann, a UHS science teacher, worked with her environmental students and came up with an ecological design for the space that will be part of the first phase of the master plan.

“We started to explore different areas and started to ask what is going to be in this space,” she said. “We want this to be a community asset.”

Summitt-Mann said considerable thought was put into how to connect the walking paths and cross-country trails to the area, including West Park across the street from UHS. The school will try to strike a balance between offering its campus to the community as an amenity while protecting campus safety and security. Phase I includes a wetland habitat and a multi-purpose trail system. The amphitheater is nearby and could be used for outdoor school gatherings, community events, plays, musicals, concerts and other gatherings.

“We already have joked that alumni could book it for weddings,” Summitt-Mann said.

Another central part of the proposed expansion is athletics. Crockett-Lohr said about two-thirds of UHS students are involved in sports. The school has tennis courts and a soccer field but many other sports teams have to play off campus.

The arts building could include anything from an art gallery to a coffee shop.

Crockett-Lohr said much of the vision is “designed intentionally to be a la carte” and “could take decades to realize.”

Although the school doesn’t have an endowment, the master plan gives parents, alumni, donors and neighbors an idea of where UHS would like to go in the future. How fast it gets there will depend on donations and administrative decisions.

But the overall message is that UHS expects to be around for a long time.

“We’re definitely no longer a startup,” Crockett-Lohr said.

And while the oldest alumni of UHS are in the early 30s, Crockett-Lohr said she expects many graduates will be interested in seeing the vision become reality as they prepare to perhaps some day send their own kids to UHS.

UNIVERSITY HIGH SCHOOL TODAY

  • 115 acres (roughly 40 acres currently utilized)
  • 2 buildings
  • Fairbanks Hall (44,000 square feet with offices and 16 classrooms)
  • The U Center (35,000 square feet with athletic, performing arts, cafeteria space, and a classroom)
  • 3 houses (one Head of School house, one used for office space, one used for storage)
  • Athletic facilities that include six tennis courts, one soccer field, one dual-purpose practice field for soccer and lacrosse, a gymnasium (580-person capacity), two weight rooms and an athletic training room
  • Outdoor student lounge that includes an outdoor classroom, lounge chairs, hammock garden, chicken coop, raised garden beds, pollinator garden and micro-library
  • Mount University, a large mound of topsoil created when Fairbanks Hall was built in 2007 that has become a beloved school feature

UNIVERSITY HIGH SCHOOL IN THE FUTURE

  • 85 acres utilized according to concept map for academic, athletic, and environmental purposes
  • The 12-acre environmental complex, which will be Phase I of the project, will include the following:
  • 3 acres of wetland habitat with integrated green infrastructure
  • Outdoor amphitheater built on a relocated (moved slightly east) Mount University
  • 2 miles of multi-purpose trail that will connect with West Park and other neighboring paths
  • Prairie and woodland edge habitat
  • Additional spaces for outdoor learning and community building

*Source: University High School

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