On June 5, just hours before Burr and Burton Academy’s 187th Commencement, a small group gathered in the staff parking lot to honor BBA’s past and celebrate its future at an official groundbreaking celebration for Founders Hall. The new 25,000-square-foot center for integrated studies is slated for completion in the summer of 2021.
With the global pandemic, the timing of this project had been in doubt.
“I was nearly convinced that we would have to delay the groundbreaking for a year,” said Headmaster Mark Tashjian. “To proceed, we had to know that we could do so with the utmost regard for the health and safety of workers, staff, and the community while managing the financial risk of a potential pause in construction if that became necessary.”
BBA worked closely with its construction management firm, DEW, to establish health protocols and design a risk management plan with public health at its core. Once health and safety issues were resolved, a second question emerged: would it appear tone deaf to proceed with an expansion project in the midst of a global pandemic?
“Public perception matters for a school like BBA, which relies so much on community support,” said trustee Bill Cairns ‘72. “Ultimately, the positive impact of this project was undeniable. We could either sit on millions of dollars—which could only be spent on Founders Hall—or we could put people in the area back to work and build a resource for the kids we serve. From that angle, the choice was easy: let’s help Vermont get back to work.”
With the decision made and plans in place, a small groundbreaking could proceed. After putting shovels in the ground, Headmaster Mark Tashjian, Board Chair Seth Bongartz ‘72, lead architect Kyle Murphy ‘07, DEW Construction COO Mike Smith, and Rowland family representative Heidi Lynn made brief remarks.
“Even though we are here for the groundbreaking for a new building, we know that school is not about the buildings, but the people,” said Tashjian. “We are building Founders Hall because it will be used by the people of the BBA community. It will enhance our ability to teach and it will enhance our students’ ability to learn. It will enable us to build on our best ideas and it will inspire learning for generations to come.”
Lead architect Kyle Murphy, Class of ‘07, thanked the Burr and Burton community for its support. “I am grateful to our team of architects, engineers, and construction managers for helping bring the project to fruition, the administration and faculty for their commitment to the project vision, and the community for embracing a new work of architecture for the campus.”
With Hunter Excavating equipment in the background, Mike Smith, Chief Operating Officer of DEW Construction, noted, “The construction of Founders Hall will not only enhance teaching and learning at Burr and Burton, but it will have a positive impact on Manchester and the state of Vermont’s economy—putting tradespeople back to work and dollars back into the local community.”
Barry and Wendy Rowland’s daughter, Heidi Lynn, stood by a painting of her parents and spoke of their faith in education and their joy in helping to provide opportunities to all of Burr and Burton’s students. “I speak for our entire family when I say that we are honored to be able to follow through with my parents’ wishes and to be involved in this project.”
Seth Bongartz, chair of the Board of Trustees and class of 1972, heralded Founders Hall as the latest example of private generosity fueling Burr and Burton’s public mission. “Beginning with Joseph Burr’s bequest which allowed for construction of the Seminary Building, all construction at Burr and Burton has been done through philanthropy,” he noted.
“Barry and Wendy Rowland made it their mission—their passion—to provide opportunity to the young people of Vermont. This new, inspiring building brilliantly connects the future to the past and helps lead us into Burr and Burton’s third century.”