A Tangible Example of Faith and Vision By Steve Stackhouse, Assistant Head of School
On December 14, 1962, Headmaster Peter A. Schwartz, Building Chair Thomas M. Ryan and Board President Perry Bass gathered for a small groundbreaking. A new home for a new school was in the works. The event marked the first construction for the fledgling Fort Worth Country Day campus. Though actual students and an “official opening” were almost a year away, this early ceremony was the realization of a dream and the culmination of years of planning. As Bass noted, it was a “tangible example of faith and vision.” It is unlikely that those who gathered on that winter day could imagine what Country Day would look like 50 years later. From the start, Trustees recognized the critical relationship between the facilities and the academic program, and they were properly focused on the plant. Just as the program grew, the campus grew. Over the years, Country Day’s buildings, and its surroundings, shaped the learning environment. From one project to the next, working principles emerged that organized the campus and influenced the climate and culture in both obvious and subtle ways. Today, the 103 acre-campus consists of 14 buildings and extensive athletic facilities and fields. Fort Worth Country Day is very much a “campus school” left, Perry R. Bass, President, FWCDS Board featuring many academic buildings and performance and sport venues in a From of Trustees, Thomas M. Ryan, Chair, FWCDS Building Committee. Headmaster Peter Schwartz park-like setting. The style is similar to other schools built in the South is in the foreground. during the ’60s and ’70s. The facilities are clustered together creating many unique and interesting plazas, patios, habitat gardens and outdoor gathering spaces. Live oaks and maples give shade and create pedestrian canopies, while breezeways connect and crisscross the campus. It is almost impossible for a student to go through the day without going outside.
With apologies to FWCD’s admission ambassadors, here is a quick campus tour of the buildings that support the “Three A’s” and a historical glimpse of the campus’s transformation over the past five decades.
Ten Acres and Three Buildings
After almost a year of construction, Country Day opened in September 1963 with 210 students in grades 1-9. The new campus featured three buildings; a classroom building, an administration building and a cafeteria. These facilities have undergone several renovations and served various functions over the years. They surrounded the original drive, which is now the current “administration circle” and parking lots. Today, these three buildings are the Peter A. Schwartz Administration Building, the Sid W. Richardson Visual Arts Center and the Upper School Science Center. In the early days, the original cafeteria functioned as the gathering center of the campus. It hosted School meetings, class performances, and various School productions. It was dedicated as the Walsh Cafeteria in 1988, and in 2009, the building was expanded into the Visual Arts Center. The original footprint of the cafeteria, contains the general art classrooms and photo lab. Early along, the administration building not only housed School offices, but also included Lower School classrooms. Kindergarten classes were in the admin building until 1975. After several remodels and reconfigurations to accommodate the growing Advancement and Admission offices, the facility finally got a major makeover in 2009. Because of the building’s significance in the founding of the School, the renovation earned a special recognition from Historic Fort Worth. The original classroom building housed the entire School that initial year. By 1972, it primarily housed the Middle School, and, in 1997, the building was renovated and dedicated as the Upper School Science Center.
Within a year of the first construction, the School began work on its next project, a dedicated Lower School. Peter Schwartz told the Star-Telegram, “… before we opened our doors last September, we already needed more space. I find this very gratifying.” The Annie Richardson Bass Lower School was built in 1964. The original design included eight classrooms to house grades K-6, a teacher office, a work room, a commons area, and even a fireplace. More than any other building on campus, the Lower School has been modified, patched together and added to in small bits and pieces over the years. The original building is the south end of the current Lower School, which contains the division’s library. In 1980, the Helen McKee and Thomas M. Ryan Lower School Annex, effectively doubled the size of the Lower School adding the current atrium and creating the playground area. The annex created a large patio space alongside the original building that was later enclosed to realize more classroom space, specifically science labs. The last lab was built in 2000, when the Lower School added a second dedicated science teacher. The kindergarten building was constructed in 1991 and named in honor of Head of School Geoffrey C. Butler H’98 in 1996. Dan Bloch, FWCD’s longest serving faculty member, recalls, “Originally, there was a play area on the east end of the Lower School consisting of one pole with a bunch of chains dangling from the top. Children flung around like mad in the most dangerous fashion.” In 1997, Lower School Division Head Ann Buis collaborated with students from the University of Texas Education Department to redesign and expand the playground to include a primary and older elementary section. Since 2010, the Lower School has been getting a phase makeover every summer. Using fixtures and design elements of the Fischer Dining Pavilion (see below) and newer buildings on campus, the atrium, halls and library have been refreshed and upgraded. The office was relocated off the library. A task force of teachers selected classroom furniture to facilitate more interactive instruction, featuring modular student desks, ergonomic chairs, wheeled work tables, and portable credenzas. Thanks to the Parent Faculty Association, eight rooms have been renovated to date.
Of all the academic divisions, the Middle School has probably bounced around campus the most. The Middle School’s first home was the original academic building, but soon classes spilled over into the Round Gym corridor where they shared space with the Upper School. In 1980, the division’s principle building expanded with the construction of the William A. and Elizabeth B. Moncrief Middle School Annex. A big program change occurred when the Middle School reorganized to include grades 5-8. In 1995, the Paul W. Mason Middle School was built to accommodate fifth-graders entering into the Middle School. The two-story design facilitated a modified “school within a school” with grades 5-6 down stairs and grades 7-8 upstairs. This basic organization remains today. Ultimately, the Middle School outgrew its building again. In 2012, the Middle School Expansion allowed the division to increase the number of student per class while reducing class size. The expansion included 10 classrooms, offices and a large commons.
The first dedicated Upper School space was the Science Wing, which was built in 1972. Once a stand-alone building, the wing houses Middle School’s labs for grade 5 and 6, and the Business Office by the Head of School Hall. The Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Upper School was built in 1975. The original design featured the library on the lower floor and classrooms overlooking a large commons. The “open commons” remains for daily assemblies, and this informal student gathering spot is an important part of building a student community. Over the years, assembly space has become a unifying and common Country Day architectural feature found in each divisional building.
Photos by Craig Kuhner
In 1997, the original classroom building, turned Middle School, became the Upper School Science Center with six labs and prep rooms. This facility gave the growing Upper School room to breathe. It also housed the student publications room and, later, technology offices. The technology staff just moved to the Round Gym in 2013. Their old office is the new Distance Learning Lab for Malone Schools Online Network through Stanford University.
The original library was housed in the Round Gym corridor in what is now Lower School music rooms. It was relocate to the Upper School in 1975. The library moved to its current location in 1994. The William A. and Elizabeth Moncrief Library houses a joint Middle and Upper School library and was the first to feature student computer labs. As the Upper School grew, new classrooms, offices and meeting spaces were partitioned from the old library area.
Built in 1966 the iconic Round Gym or Sid W. Richardson Gymnasium was the School’s fourth major construction project. According to the November 29, 1966, Falcon Quill, the look mimicked the Fort Worth landmark, Casa Manana. The facility included arching wood beams, maple floors, locker rooms and classrooms in the perimeter corridor (Lost in translation… it also features boys and girls “gym rooms,” a tumbling room and shuffleboard courts). It was the site of FWCD’s first high school graduation in June 1967. By the mid-’70s, the athletic grounds began to take shape. Dr. Ford Dixon said the site improvements delivered “a multi-purpose sports complex … rarely equaled in other independent schools,” supporting football, track, tennis, field hockey and softball. By 1974, the first four tennis courts and the stadium seats were built. The eight-lane track was built in 1976. Stone columns and perimeter fencing, added in 2003, gave shape to what would be known as Rosacker Field, named for the School’s first athletic director, Colonel Rocky Rosacker H’00. The pond was constructed to irrigate four central practice fields. The tank is fed by the Trinity River and a campus well that is right next to the baseball stadium’s right-field foul pole. In 1981, the Square (North) Gym was built. The area between the gyms was linked by halls. The space created was utilized to expand the locker rooms and storage areas, and include a dance studio and wrestling room. The Square Gym basement was storage for the School’s rummage sale. The SALE was a massive annual undertaking that
shut down the gyms and athletics for a week. Today, the band hall, weight and training rooms, and Plant Operations is in the basement. Both gyms were originally cooled with big fans and louver vents and warmed with electric space heaters. They were finally air-conditioned in 2000. The adjacent team rooms and locker areas followed in 2008.
Rounding out the “Three A’s,” Country Day’s fine arts facilities grew in the ’70s. By 1977, a breezeway arts plaza was created at the south main entry to the Round Gym. This multipurpose arts corridor would later be known as the Sanford Art Center, named for the second head of School, Ted Sanford H’98. The complex included the William E. Scott Theater, music classrooms, and a large open visual art studio with a pottery room and patio. The theater and music rooms remain in place today, but little else is left of the Art Center. Everything would start to change starting in 2009 when the old cafeteria was renovated and expanded into the Sid W. Richardson Visual Arts Center. The award-winning building features classrooms for general art, a dark room and digital photo lab, painting and ceramic studios, and a kiln area. The views overlooking the Habitat Garden are some of the best on campus.
Photo by Craig Kuhner
With the visual arts relocated, the old art studio and plaza were razed and the Lou and Nick Martin Campus Center built in its place. The Martin Center was adjoined to the Scott Theater so the project included several improvement to that facility: a new tech control room, a lobby, HVAC system, handicap access, as well as the adjacent beautiful reception space.
Around the Campus
Other facilities and features shape our campus and our daily school life and commute … In 1962, a 10-acre tract of land was purchase for the original campus. Within two years, an additional 80-acre tract was purchased. The “hill” property was added in 1969. Totaling more than 90 acres, these tracts comprised the campus for over 30 years. For decades the School had a rural feel, buffered by the Edwards Ranch on Bryant Irvin Road, but times would change. Bryant Irvin Road expanded and the commercial area south of campus grew dramatically. In 1999, Country Day acquired property along the north and east boundary of the campus. This critical purchase enabled the School to
add a new entry gate on Bryant Irvin Road and construct a perimeter road around the entire campus. In 2003, the extension of Country Day Lane and north entry opened, significantly improving traffic flow and general access. Dedicated Lower and Middle School traffic circles, the cul-de-sac road and additional parking relieved notorious carpool logjams. Since the opening of the Bryant Irvin gate, the growth and orientation of the campus has shifted to the north. The new road set the stage for the Learning.Leading.Legacy. A Campaign for FWCDS building projects. In 2008, the Fischer Dining Pavilion (FDP) opened with the Palko Dining Hall and Goff Dining Rooms. The eating and service space allowed the School to provide a comprehensive campus dining program. A new north-south sidewalk gave access to the new facility, an unimaginable far walk for Upper School students at the time. Daily everyone comes to the FDP for lunch, bringing together faculty, staff, parents and students, K through 12. The Goff Rooms may be the busiest spot on campus hosting everything from Chess Club and exercise classes to PFA and Board of Trustees meetings. On the grounds, the main courtyard fountain behind the administration building was constructed in 1980. The Hill Ropes Course was built in the mid-90â€™s with assistance from then-Upper School Division Head Evan Peterson. Trustees Plaza was dedicated in 1998, completing an east-west main walkway through the interior of the campus. Recognizing employees with 20 years of service to the School, the Club Viginti Wall was originally located along a garden walk by the main fountain. The engraved stones were transplanted to the FDP, but this past Foundersâ€™ Day, the wall was redesigned. It is now outside the south entrance to the Martin Center.
In fall 2013, a group of architects from throughout Texas visited the campus as part of a conference and tour of Fort Worth landmarks. The group commented on the continuity of design, building style and natural colors that unify the campus. The Fischer Dining Pavilion, the Sid Richardson Visual Arts Building and the Martin Campus Center have certainly enhanced our program and the community. Additionally, the new construction has updated the campus, punctuating it with a modern look that is still respectful of the original ranch style design In the end, the campus is hard-used, noticeably well-maintained and a sentimental place that wears the marks of thousands of students who have grown up in these halls.