Severn School opens new athletic center this week, part of a $20 million, three-building expansion

Baltimore Sun  |  Susan Gvozdas

`Prepared for the 21st century’

When Kristyn Kuhn started working at Severn School in the early 1990s, students were still using the original 1922 dining hall and a gym and academic buildings from the 1960s. Plays were performed in a basement where low ceilings made staging the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet a claustrophobic experience.

“Juliet’s head was bumping into a sprinkler head on the ceiling,” said Kuhn, now the school’s director of communications and the parent of two sons in the upper school.

“There were great programs, but the facilities were so poor.”

In the past decade, the school has torn down a half-dozen buildings on its 19-acre campus in Severna Park and spent $20 million on three new buildings. One of those buildings – a 44,000-square-foot athletic complex – will hold its grand opening Saturday with a ribbon-cutting and gala for parents, friends and donors.

Students got their first taste of the $10 million Edward St. John Athletic Center on Feb. 8, when Severn defeated its archrival in basketball, St. Mary’s in Annapolis. The gym – twice the size of the old one – was so packed that crowds stood in the doorway to catch a glimpse of the 53-51 game.

David Henry, a senior from Davidsonville, said the gym looks more like the modern gyms he sees at competing high schools and puts a better face on Severn’s athletic program.

“It just looks good,” Henry said.

Henry and his teammates on the lacrosse team have been using the weight room, which was outfitted with new equipment. Students used to have to work out on the small stage in the old Memorial Gymnasium, which was built in 1963.

Memorial Gymnasium, which is attached to the new athletic complex, is undergoing renovations and will be used mostly by the middle school students. The locker rooms will be reserved for players from opposing teams, which have had no formal place to change, Kuhn said.

Youth sports teams in the community will also be allowed to use the gym.

The new athletic complex has concession and reception areas, and an Athletic Hall of Fame that includes the school’s trophy cases. Turf fields adjacent to the complex will be installed in June.

Alex Adams, a sophomore from Pasadena who plays football and baseball, said the school needed better facilities.

“I think it is very needed with the way the school is going,” Alex said.

Severn School was founded in 1914 as a one-year preparatory program for boys who wanted to go to the Naval Academy. The boarding school gradually moved away from that mission to become a traditional, co-ed day school. It has 570 students in grades six through 12. Tuition is $19,500.

The athletic complex is part of the school’s $42 million Centennial Campaign. By 2014, the school hopes to renovate its middle school, which is housed in aging Teel Hall; increase its endowment from $5.5 million to $20 million; and establish an environmental stewardship program.

Two years ago, the Edward A. St. John Foundation, which supports educational institutions, pledged $5 million to the fundraising campaign. The foundation is an affiliate of Baltimore-based St. John Properties Inc.

Environmental concerns have played a role in the construction projects. The school had to demolish the dining hall, Woods Hall, to be permitted to build the athletic center. The school was not allowed to cover more ground with impervious surfaces without freeing up other space, Headmaster Doug Lagarde said.

An old dormitory and an academic building were torn down to make way for the Robert E. McCleary Student Center in 1999 and Creeden Hall, a new upper school building, in 2001. The buildings cost a combined $10 million.

Teel Hall, named for the school’s founders, was a dormitory until Severn became a day school in 1973. The rooms were joined to make classrooms, but the configuration made the rooms narrow and small. The renovations will modernize them, said Scott Jay, the owner’s representative on the last four construction projects at the school.

Jay, an alumnus and former trustee, grew up across the street from Severn School. His two sons also attended. He said the new construction allows the school to install the latest wiring and technology.

“We’re definitely prepared for the 21st century,” he said.

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