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“Social Spaces Become Learning Spaces”

New Center for Student Life Emphasizes Holistic Wellness

By Kevin Flinn | Back to Table of Contents


Late last summer, Ravenscroft proudly announced plans for a new Center for Student Life at the A.E. Finley Activity Center. The 33,000-square-foot facility will expand the school’s current athletic facilities to provide new features including dining services, meeting areas, wellness and meditation rooms, and a revamped RavenZone school store — all part of a holistic vision of wellness that will transform student life on campus.

As part of the construction project, demolition of the existing lobby, athletic offices, guest restrooms and concessions stand gets underway in mid-September 2020.


Putting “activity” back in the Finley Center

Since its dedication in 1974, the A.E. Finley Activity Center — colloquially known as the Finley Center — has housed athletics, fitness and P.E. classes, schoolwide gatherings, fine arts programs and more. The 18-month expansion and renovation aims to put the “activity” back in the space, harkening back to the time when it hosted a senior lounge with ping-pong and foosball tables.

Amy Batten, Chair of Ravenscroft’s Board of Trustees, described the project as “a wonderful confluence of long-term planning, real-time responsiveness to the needs of our students, and the generosity of a lead donor. Ravenscroft has always prioritized the health and well-being of our community, and we find it is more important than ever to be mindful of social, emotional and physical wellness,” she said.

“Our social spaces become learning spaces,” said Phil Higginson, Associate Head of School for Philanthropy, “and the generosity of leadership donors allows us to build buildings on the backs of philanthropy, not tuition.” Likening the space to the Keim Center for Innovation and Research, which opened after a strategic renovation of the Library and Technology Center in 2018, he called the Center for Student Life “another tool for our faculty and staff to do amazing things for our students.”

Debris from the demolition of the front side of the Finley Activity Center is quickly cleared to make way for the next phase of construction.


“An inviting social space”

The A.E. Finley Activity Center remains home to the Main Arena, aquatics center and exercise facilities, as well as the Athletic and Physical Education departments. But the renovation will bring numerous new elements to the space, providing additional amenities that enhance the school’s current offerings. The new dining facility, for example, will allow Middle and Upper School students the flexible seating options they’ll encounter at many colleges while also giving Lower School students more time and elbow room in the existing Dining Hall.

The Center for Student Life also creates a social hub for older students. Situated as it is between the Middle and Upper Schools, it will offer students “an extra layer of independence,” Upper School Dean Kat Belk said. “It’s separate from our strictly academic spaces and allows our kids an inviting social space.”

Head of Middle School Tinnie Salzano emphatically agreed. “Having safe and comfortable social spaces for tweens and early teens is imperative for their social-emotional growth,” she said.

Higginson emphasized the space as a place for “community building,” a priority that is especially important to Upper School Head Aaron Sundstrom. “We have a vibrant student life program but not necessarily the spaces to fully support it,” Sundstrom said. “We want to encourage kids to have positive social interactions, and the meeting nooks, classrooms, and seminar and dining spaces can be used in a lot of different ways.”

Aerial photography, taken from above Murphy Hall Upper School, shows the scope of the renovation and expansion.

Ultimately, the Center for Student Life at the A.E. Finley Activity Center will be a place for students to bond and forge the lifelong relationships that are vital to their social and emotional well-being.

“Healthy, boundaried relationships are essential to a learning environment,” Higginson concluded. “We know that happens all the time at the university level, and if we’re preparing children for the next phase, we need to empower them to manage their lives.”

Enjoy photos and alumni memories of the A.E. Finley Activity Center through the years in Ravens Reply.

Above, this rendering shows the contemporary lines of the new, light-filled dining facility in the Center for Student Life at the A.E. Finley Activity Center.

From the Archives

Ravenscroft Magazine, Fall 2019

A Vision Grew and Grew

Supporters Turn Determination and Philanthropy into a Legacy of Innovation for the 21st Century

Stay up-to-date on the Center for Student Life construction work on our dedicated project page!

Three More New Spaces Focused on Wellness

The Center for Student Life at the A.E. Finley Activity Center isn’t the only new space on campus that makes student wellness a priority. Three additional projects have recently been made possible by donor generosity:

LJ’s Place, Murphy Hall Upper School
In the fall of 2019, the Upper School’s significant renovations included an outdoor patio space facing the quad, complete with picnic tables and a low wall for seating. Through the generosity of the Replogle family, the space was officially named “LJ’s Place” in honor of Leonard Johnson, Associate Head of School for Business and Finance.

The patio has become a gathering spot for students as the Upper School population has grown. “We often tax our available spaces for students during study hall and club meetings,” said Kat Belk, Upper School Dean. “LJ’s Place gives our kids a place to meet and be social, and the best part is that it’s outside so they can get out of the building for a little bit.”

The Upper School’s Coffeehouse Club has been using the patio as a performance venue, while teachers take classes outside when the weather is nice. With social-distancing restrictions in place this fall, some classes, advisories and study halls are meeting under large tents set up in LJ’s Place, furthering the notion of a flexible gathering space for the Upper School.

Already a favorite gathering spot for Upper School students, LJ’s place is now set up with a large tent to accommodate socially distanced club and class meetings regardless of the weather.

Cardio/Conditioning Center, A.E. Finley Activity Center
Another space in the A.E. Finley Activity Center has been given new life, thanks to a challenge from parents Pablo Martinez and Maria Adamik-Martinez during last winter’s Fund-A-Need live auction event. Located above the new weight room in the A.E. Finley Activity Center, the new cardio and conditioning center, slated to open this fall, overlooks the back gym and gives students and employees access to fitness equipment and workout space outside the purview of an official athletic program.

A wall of windows floods the area with natural light and offers “a different dynamic than the weight room, which is traditionally used by student-athletes,” said Assistant Athletic Director Jim Gibbons. This space — with more than a dozen cardio machines and areas for stretching and conditioning — encourages Ravens to “apply what they’ve learned in ninth-grade P.E. and be proponents of lifelong fitness.” The cardio and conditioning room will be open during the construction of the Center for Student Life and, as Higginson said, will “pair nicely with the new yoga and meditation space.”

A range of cardio and conditioning equipment provides students, faculty and staff with one more way to prioritize their health and wellness.

Varsity Wrestling Center, Richards Hall
The new varsity wrestling training center, funded by the generosity of an anonymous donor, is scheduled to open this fall as well.

“It’s a huge step forward for us as a program,” said varsity wrestling coach Garrett Cummings. “It gives us ample space to train, and we now have the ability to bring in the Middle School team and practice as a program.”

The center — located in Richards Hall, just steps away from the teams’ competition venue in Cox Court — will feature 12 wrestling circles, a locker room and a coaches’ office, as well as state-of-the-art training equipment and a weight room named after longtime Ravenscroft math teacher and wrestling coach Ed Durham. Durham, who retired in 2018 and passed away in January 2020 after a courageous battle with brain cancer, was “a constant advocate of the wrestling program and our athletes,” said Head of School Doreen Kelly.

Cummings echoes these sentiments, noting that the new weight training space is a tremendous honor to Durham’s legacy and a testament to his vision and work building the wrestling program over the past decade. “As coaches we’re thrilled to have access to such great facilities and hope the new location gives some more visibility to our sport,” he added.

The new wrestling center in Richards Hall will feature wrestling circles, training equipment and a weight room as well as a locker room and coaches’ office.