After weeks of preparation, work began today on the demolition of the “old gym.” The actual name of the building was the “Hall of Events.” Constructed back in 1962, the facility was intended to be multipurpose in nature and not just a space for athletics. Incidentally, St. Bernard’s first gymnasium (built in 1926) currently serves as our “black box” theater. The old gym was an ever present feature on the campus for more than 55 years. It hosted countless games, concerts, dances, and assemblies as well as other events over the years including our annual auction. In this fashion, the Hall of Events truly lived up to its original moniker.
Since I came to GSB in 2001, we have renovated the building many times to both refresh and better utilize its square footage. However, in the end, (as is the case with all real estate) it was about “location, location, location.” The part of campus on which the gym was located is our front doorstep and is highly visible at two major entrances on St. Bernard’s Road. The old gym, despite all of our “facelifts” since 2002, was simply not a signature building at the school. As the Trustees reviewed the campus master plan to determine the best location for our new community arts center this spot stood out.
Initially, the concept was to gut the building and work within its original walls and roofline. Yet, as the plans moved from schematic ideas to working drawings, our thinking evolved beyond just the location. Ultimately it became clear that it would be more efficient, cost effective and result in a better building if we took the old structure down.
Demolishing any building on campus generates a “mixed bag” of emotions. A certain amount of nostalgia inevitably surfaces and a few are even unhappy about the decision. We have experienced this before, most notably in 2007 when Lindabury Hall was taken down to make way for Hockenbury. This was also the case in 2013 when the Cottage had to come down in the aftermath of a review by our structural engineer which determined that it was unsafe to occupy and too expensive to repair.
It is a given that on any school campus from time to time a building will come down for one reason or another. Recognizing both the expense involved and psychological impact on the community, such decisions are always carefully considered by the Trustees. As their focus is on the “big picture” and our long term needs, I hope that all at GSB may appreciate the unique nature of these occasions in the life of our school, with clear eyes and greater understanding. Even as we acknowledge and honor our history, it is more about focusing on the challenges and opportunities which are ahead of us.
Gill St. Bernard’s is a private, coeducational day school for students age three through grade 12, located in suburban New Jersey. Each of the three school divisions provides a vigorous, meaningful and age-appropriate curriculum, and all students benefit from the environmental learning opportunities that exist on our 208-acre campus.