On a warm spring morning, the beautiful sounds of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" are heard wafting out of the open windows of Brown Hall. Inside, Grade 11 and 12 choir students rehearse their repertoire in the space.
At the same time, Grade 10 art students, inspired by the music, learn figure drawing at the other end of the room. Students take turns posing on a raised platform as classmates at their easels circle around them in the wide-open space.
"This is pretty cool," visual arts teacher Brad Ingimundson says as he stands back and enjoys watching the choir and arts classes share Brown Hall.
After months of work seismically upgrading our school's former dining hall, Brown Hall is now a multipurpose/heritage space available to the SMUS community. Long-term plans for the space will come from the new Strategic Plan and in consultation with the community, so for now it can be used by students, alumni, faculty and parents in several ways.
"We're going to have AP exams in there, which means we can help minimize the disruption to the gym. Over Alumni Weekend, Andrew Timmis will host a dinner for the University School Old Boys in there. We have Senior School art classes booked in the former kitchen space because it provides them lots of space and natural light to work with," says Mr. Andy Rodford, Deputy Head of School.
All requests to use the space go through the Deputy Head of School's office.
Upgrading Brown Hall
Repurposing the 1957-built dining hall began last summer as soon as the 2017-18 school year ended. The seismic upgrades were top priority, and they weren't exclusive to just the dining hall; the former kitchen space, and the Middle School math classrooms and IT room on the ground floor were also upgraded. More wood was added to the building's frame and a shear wall was installed, which helps resist horizontal forces from seismic activity.
"We prioritized finishing the bottom of the building ahead of Brown Hall. Everything structural had to be done at the same time but we wanted to get the students back into the space as fast as we could," Andy says.
The two math classrooms and the IT room were completed in the fall and students were back learning in those rooms in late November.
Finishing work in Brown Hall was completed early this year and made available to the community in February. Below the former kitchen area, a designated office and workspace was created for the school's maintenance crew. A new heating system, electrical wiring and plumbing were added, as was a ventilation system – something the building didn’t previously have.
"We made a lot of upgrades. There's also new LED lighting in the classrooms and in Brown Hall, there's new flooring everywhere, the classrooms all got new furniture, and the last upgrade was the inclusion of a heat pump system," says Mr. James Booth, SMUS’s Facilities Manager. "The school is trying to move away from the use of fossil fuel heating systems and this is a good step forward for Brown Hall and the classrooms."
Andy says that it's an exciting time for the school, given that this 62-year-old building has received a retrofit that opens it up to new opportunities.
"It's so rare in schools like ours to build a building like the Sun Centre that frees up newfound space for our community to use in new ways," he says. "We're lucky to have this space because it allows us to make decisions around best serving our students now and into the future."