When students returned to the Grove School on Jan. 4, they were greeted with a brand new, state-of-the-art dining facility. The new space comes complete with an expanded kitchen, a gas fireplace, and flat screen televisions, and is just one part of a much larger plan to revolutionize the historic school.
At its Dec. 17, 02015 meeting, the Planning & Zoning Commission approved additional structure changes to be made on the 92-acre property, according to Town Planner David Anderson.
“There are four parts to the project,” said Anderson. “A new South Campus dorm, an addition to the gymnasium, renovation of an existing building for an admissions office, and replacement of an older dorm with a new dorm.”
First established in 1934 as a residential treatment center, the Grove School has become a therapeutic boarding school. The physical footprint of the school has seen a dramatic change since President and CEO Richard Chorney took the reins , though he said the curriculum changes may have been less obvious to the public.
“My goal from day one was to have my own program and have the best program in the country for the kinds of the kids we serve,” Chorney said. “We slowly built the program to a place where it was a really good program, but the facilities were old and troubling.”
Since approximately 2007, the school has been under construction in what will eventually be a four-phase project. Phase I and II consisted of the establishment of a new academic building, a welcome center, a gymnasium, and a maintenance facility. Phase III, which is just now being completed, includes the remodel of a dormitory, a new health center, and finally the new dining hall, which Chorney now refers to as the current centerpiece of the school.
Chorney said the total cost for the dining hall, including renovations and additions to the old structure and the kitchen, is a little bit more than $1.3 million.
“It is colorful, it has a fireplace and the goal was to have a place that is really a community space,” he said. “Eating and dining are communal and we pride ourselves on being a therapeutic community.”
Providing high quality food has been a high priority of the school, and Chorney said he wants the building to reflect that priority.
“By saying, ‘Come break bread with us,’ and by making the place look like your words is important,” he said.
Modeled after a small college dining hall, the new facility is designed to allow students to feel comfortable while interacting, Chorney said.
“It enhances the relationship piece of the dining experience because now you want to sit in there and talk and make connections with your peers and with your teachers,” he said. “Our staff eats with the kids, because it is a time to talk about things informally, it is a time to solve problems informally, and it is a time for kids to learn to get along in a large group situation, which is really good for them.”
Many of the renovations are designed to help elevate the school’s educational programs, but Chorney said there are other factors at play.
“The purpose of expanding is because there has been demand; a lot of programs have closed,” he said. “Everything had been jammed into the buildings we had and that is how we have had to live, so it is expanding for room and for program space.”
The Grove School has approximately 100 boarding students and 20 day students from grades 6 to 12. The school has a staff of about 130, ranging from teachers and clinicians to maintenance workers.
As the students and staff settle into the new dining facility, Chorney said the school will look to complete the recently approved additions, which will be considered Phase IV, over the next three to five years.
“One of the additions is an expansion of the gym to put a stage out the back, because we have a great drama program,” he said. “So that is about 900 square feet that is going to go off the back of the gym.”
Chorney said the end goal of the physical improvements is to provide the best education.
“We wanted it to be clear we were a good educational center,” he said. “We think we do really good solid work here. This is a special education facility for average to very much above average kids. Most of our kids go to college. They are bright.”