Students hang out in the common room

When students began moving into the boarding houses for the 2023-24 school year, things looked a little different than what they may have remembered. The common room, foyer, and houseparents’ office in Barnacle/Winslow was renovated, complete with new flooring, new furniture, whiteboards, and more. Select student rooms in Barnacle House had also undergone renovation, making the boarding rooms updated and more functional for students. This winter, the entryways, including the common room and houseparents’ office, for Harvey/Symons and Timmis/Bolton were similarly renovated while students were away during the winter break and Family Day long weekend. These renovations were made possible thanks to a generous anonymous donation in 2023. 

A Space for Community

Before the renovations, the common rooms “had a lot of charm to them, a pool table, foosball, a TV, drumset, and furniture… but it felt like it hadn’t really changed in a while,” says Alessandro Raniolo, a Grade 11 student in Harvey House boarding from Kingcome Inlet, BC. “After the renovations, it feels like we have a lot more space. We still have a lot of the same pieces like the drumset, TV and whatnot, but there’s new furniture and wall-mounted white boards, and it just feels brighter. There are little alcoves in the windows for you to sit and study in now, which I really like, and we can move the furniture around for house meetings, and activities.”

“The common room has always been a popular place to hang out for Timmis House and Bolton House, and it’s definitely nice to have a refresh. The carpet being gone is a big improvement too,” shares Ilaria Dolden of Comox, BC, who is in her 3rd year of boarding at SMUS. “I like to bake and cook in the kitchen of the common room, and it’s great that we’ve gotten new cooking supplies with this update.” This has also paved the way for new challenges to be added to the House Games, such as cookie baking and decorating competitions.

By far, the whiteboards have been the biggest game-changer for students in the common rooms. Rio Usugaya, a Japanese student and fellow Grade 11 in Timmis House, has already been able to see the difference academically. “Before, it was a room for having fun. It still is, but with the huge whiteboards they made a space for studying, too. Me and my friends have used it to study during prep time, instead of going to the library or student commons. It’s so convenient. They increased the chairs and tables too, so many other people can study as well.” 

Changing the House Dynamic

“I see people studying there all the time now,” agrees Katharina Bohmann, a boarding student from Germany in Symons House. “I love having whiteboards in the classrooms, which wasn’t normal back in Germany. Getting them in the common rooms and the foyer... I’m in heaven.” Since the foyer and houseparents’ office in each building was also renovated, the difference is noticeable right as you walk into the boarding buildings, too. “It seems so simple, but the white boards are so multiuse, there’s more organization for the house, and it’s very open and welcoming. I love the colours they used for the area too, it's a brighter space and gives a cleaner look to the foyer, and to the houseparents’ office.”

Students gather in the houseparents' office for check-in

As a Grade 9 student, Estee Luk is in her first year boarding from Hong Kong, and feels the change when visiting the houseparents’ office. “There are always students in the office, sometimes we just like to chat with our houseparents, or we ask them to sign us out. It’s really organized now, it’s less scattered.” The renovated office for houseparents has new organization solutions with drawers and shelves, making for a more welcoming space while they’re on duty.

It also gives them a front-row seat to observing students amidst these new changes. “As houseparents, we love to encourage all our students to get out of their rooms and head down to the common room for some fun. This space is particularly important at the beginning of the year when our new boarding students arrive. It is so wonderful to see all the connections being made as students step outside of their comfort zone, learn about each other, and establish meaningful relationships,” shares Evan Fryer, a Bolton houseparent of 12 years.

“The students use it for cooking dinner for themselves and their friends, doing homework, watching movies, and playing pool; it's like when you lived at home, and the basement or family room was where the kids hung out. It's the same thing: it is where they can be social,” agrees Deanna Catto, who has been a senior assistant houseparent in Symons House for over 10 years.

A student sits at a desk next to large storage cabinets

Clean, Functional, and Modern Student Rooms

On an individual basis, the largest change to come for students will be the dorm room renovations. As the oldest boarding building on campus, Barnacle House is the first to see these renovations, with the other houses to follow soon after.

Ricky Lam has been boarding at SMUS from Hong Kong for 4 years, and as a Grade 12 student in Barnacle House, he has been living in one of the newly renovated rooms this year. “There is so much more storage now, I bought so many more clothes this year because of that,” he jokes. The overhead storage space was expanded, as well as new closets introduced. Additionally, the beds easily convert into desks, creating a more dynamic and functional space for students. “The new rooms are more appealing to have visitors in. When we have friends over there’s more space to hang out or study — even with the addition of the closets — and the new floors stay much cleaner. Watching a movie in bed on Sunday nights is so comfortable, cozy and relaxing now. Honestly, I prefer these new beds over the ones in my home.”

A bathroom sink, storage, toilet and shower are in each room

Winslow House, partner to Barnacle and located within the same building, has been looking on in eager anticipation. “They look really, really nice. Winslow’s the next house to be updated and I’m jealous that I won’t be here for that, but excited for the next residents,” says Claire Lawler in Grade 12, Winslow’s Head of House. Claire has been boarding at SMUS from South Africa for 3 years now. “To me the biggest thing that stands out is the updated bathroom. It’s the little things that you would want to have at home, like a full-length mirror and shower storage, those final little touches that make your day easier,” she shares. The bathroom in each renovated room was redone to include new tile, a bigger shower area with shelves, and a mirror. “In general though, the boarding buildings at SMUS are really nice. We’re really lucky to have the facilities that we do; most boarding students in other schools don’t have a bathroom that’s only shared between you and your roommate, and I’m really grateful for that.”

Boarding rooms will continue to be updated on a rolling basis, but the effects of the common rooms in just a few short weeks have already had an impact on the students’ experience in their interpersonal and academic endeavors. Learn more about this project and how you can help transform the boarding experience of students living at SMUS.