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Sandy Journal

Waterford School’s new science building gives students opportunity to learn

Sep 11, 2023 12:29PM ● By Julie Slama

Waterford School’s new science building has dedicated classrooms and labs for biology, chemistry and physics as well as additional rooms for other scientific study; outside this room, crews work to put in a new turf field. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Waterford School’s new science building isn’t just a building, but rather a teaching tool.

The two-story building, named the Murray Science Center, welcomes students this fall, just one year and a few months after ground was broken in April 2022. It houses six classrooms dedicated to biology, chemistry and physics, as well as additional rooms for the school’s signature outdoor program, world-known robotics program, a singular nature laboratory and classrooms for their science courses.

Yet throughout the building, steel trust beams aren’t hidden in walls, so students can learn about the engineering and infrastructure that is designed to withhold earthquakes as well as an open mechanics area to understand about the school’s geothermal climate system. Students also can learn about pulleys and tensions in hydraulics as the elevator shaft is open for viewing. Even the position of the Wasatch observation deck is in line with Little Cottonwood Canyon so students can learn from the natural world.

“The students will be able to read the structure and be able to understand how the building is an application of science knowledge,” science department chair James Harris said. “For example, we’re right near the Wasatch Fault so we’ll be understanding our sense of place right here on the Wasatch Front and know that this structure will protect us when the big one hits. The framing provides shear strength and it’s not hidden in the walls, but it’s exposed so we can use it as a teaching tool. We’ll use the open elevator as an opportunity so students can see how counterweight works.”

He also said the use of a geothermal system to heat and cool the building teaches students to be good stewards of their natural resources.

“We’ve been mindful to design and build this facility that exemplifies stewardship of resources with our geothermal system. It’s all electric except for a small pipe of gas for our Bunsen burners. That means we won’t be contributing to local winter inversion or air pollution problems,” he said. 

Those 45 400-foot geothermal shafts are underneath the new turf field and will bring a 54-degree temperature into the building that then can be adjusted. The building also was designed to be “bright and vibrant” by bringing in natural light through narrow window ribbons that allows the sunlight to enter from the rooftop, said Todd Winters, assistant head of school for enrollment and institutional advancement, who added that the building’s design also calls for solar panels on the roof.

Harris pointed out the landscaping in front of the building is native plants that require low water so it will reduce the amount of water needed for campus beautification. 

“Everything just brings us up to date and beyond for the students to be able to work collaboratively both in the classroom and in the lab space and also, independently outside the classroom lab space as scientists do,” he said about the building that houses advanced placement (AP) biology, AP chemistry, AP physics and AP environmental science in addition to courses that include natural history, molecular biology, zoology, botany, biotech, molecular biology, robotics and more. 

Winters said that the design of the building, by EDA architecture firm with Okland Construction as the general contractor, was intentional “to dedicate and show our investment in in the environment with some of those stewardship opportunities from solar to geothermal, to a large bioswale and even the design of the building itself. We’ve been building a building that not only is functional for the kinds of sciences our students are learning, but also we introduced an opportunity to build a building that really supports the mission, the vision and the kinds of sciences our students are learning.”

The Murray Science Center, which cost about $21.5 million, is part of the master plan, which includes a new turf field that will be finished by early winter; a 18,000-square foot student commons, which will completed next fall; and new parking infrastructure that will be completed by early winter. Already added are new basketball and pickleball courts. It’s part of the school’s capital campaign, Waterford Rises, which raised more than $30 million and will grow the school’s endowment.

As of press deadline, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was slated for later August with a ground-breaking on Sept. 1 for the new student center, which will house a dining hall for 475 people, a student store, a gathering area, meeting spaces, an outdoor plaza and the offices for the dean of students.

Waterford School emerged from the Waterford Institute plan, which began in 1976 as a “think tank, to incubate the use of digital technology as an instructional tool,” Winter said, who added in 1981, the non-tuition laboratory school was opened in an abandoned Catholic school in Provo.

Waterford School in Sandy opened as a model school to 150 kindergarten through fifth-grade students in 1986.

“When we opened this campus, it was really a bootstrap effort. There was no endowment, there was no benefactor. The vision was to grow the school to be a full K through 12 school,” said Winters who was a part of the effort to build the campus where apricot trees, alfalfa and potatoes fields and gladiolas once grew.

Throughout the years, the campus was built as more land was acquired. In 1999, the last land purchased made the campus complete at 42 acres. 

“In 2010, the two organization became separate nonprofit entities and Waterford School is continuing to honor that legacy as we continue to deliver the world class liberal arts education. We have a shared legacy,” he said.

Currently, the 12-building school is at its target enrollment, 1,050 pre-kindergarten through twelfth-grade students from six counties, and are taught by 270 part- and full-time faculty. Thirty-four percent of Waterford’s studentbody identify as students of color and the school welcomes students of diverse religious backgrounds and those with physical disabilities. About 17 percent of its students receive financial assistance for the tuition that ranges from $15,000 to $29,000 per year, depending upon the student’s year in school. One hundred percent of Waterford’s graduating seniors attend colleges and universities. Currently, there is a wait list for almost every grade, Winter said. 

Other notable aspects of the new science building:

• The robotics room is large enough to not only use equipment to build and code robots, and store parts, but has enough room to host local robotics competitions.

• One of the school’s founding science teachers, Mark Bromley, collected and donated his collection from butterflies to an African elephant head that will be exhibited in a nature lab so students can examine and learn about zoology and botany. Art and photography lessons also will use the lab.

• Computer science classrooms for students to learn by beginning scratch programming and visual basic in middle school and more advanced classes such as python, Java and HTML in high school.

• Student study and lounge areas as well as project classrooms where students can leave their materials in place when the bell rings and pick up later without needing to set up again.

• Teacher spaces for research, collaboration with colleagues, innovating their craft and professional development. 

• Large multipurpose classroom as well as the observation deck that can be used as gathering spaces.