After Crisis, Sanford School Opens Curtain on Second Act

Recent renovations include an impressive $7.5 million arts center.

To say Sanford School has undergone a transformation over the past year is a bit of an understatement. The changes have been nothing short of remarkable.

On Feb. 22, 2015, school opened as usual. But as students and teachers began to arrive, a discovery was made: Two pipes had burst in the lower school, flooding an entire wing. The next day a pipe burst in the Irene S. du Pont Library, devastating the whole lower level. “Our community was in crisis mode,” says Mark Anderson, head of school.

Despite the calamity, the Sanford community rallied to keep the lower school open all but one day. The community also came together to help complete renovations of the library and Pirnie Hall, which was being used as a storage facility at the time. The library now houses both the upper school library on the upper level and the extended day program on the lower level. Pirnie Hall was renovated as the new STEM and Communications Center.

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These renovations were part of an improvised Front & Center campaign, which also includes the opening of the new Geipel Center performance space. While Sanford went into its strategic planning phase three years ago, the burst pipes sped up the overhaul and forced the library to include the extended day program and to utilize Pirnie Hall as the new STEM Lab.

“The campaign is designed to keep our students front and center. We keep our students in the forefront,” Anderson says. “Also, it is the idea of this building being the first thing people see when they come on campus. It is front and center in terms of facilities.”

The $7.5 million arts center is impressive: At 30,000 square feet, it is the largest building on campus. It houses four classrooms, technology space, dance space, half a dozen practice rooms and offices for teachers. The balcony houses 120 seats and the lower portion houses 335 seats. There is an orchestra pit and full stage. 

If you weren’t lucky enough to get a ticket to the sold-out performance of “Mame,” the school’s first show in the new center, don’t despair. Anderson promises the Geipel Center will play host to plenty of performances. The Delaware Symphony Orchestra performed there in late February, and dance recitals and spring concerts were booked early on. “Now that we have our own space, our own performance schedule will become more diverse,” Anderson says. “We are even working on a brand-new film festival for student-produced films.”

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