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A World of Academic Possibilities at the Gilder Center

Sept. 23, 2021 — The Gilder Center will be the new home for the Northfield Mount Hermon math and science departments, but it will also provide the entire campus community with new resources for learning, teaching, collaboration, and community building. 

The $30 million Gilder Center that will be ready to open next month is full of flexible, multi-use spaces that can adapt as the educational needs of NMH students change over time. Every space in the 42,000-square-foot building is designed to be a teaching and learning space and was made intentionally flexible to help enhance collaboration across academic disciplines. 

“A space that creates an environment for exploring the unknown and dreaming big.” — Brian Hargrove, Head of School

The Gilder Center will boast 17 classroom-and-lab spaces — 10 for math; three each for biology, physics, and chemistry; and one for environmental science — and five prep rooms or mini labs. 

Interior spaces are adaptable to foster creativity, and will be configured and furnished to accommodate a variety of uses, including individual instruction, small-group projects, and larger class activities. Classrooms will be able to open onto each other. Breakout spaces will allow students to work in small groups or faculty to collaborate. 

There will be space for independent work, long-term projects, faculty teamwork, and student-directed study. Each of the building’s three floors will include at least two “collaboration zones.” There will be two large and six small meeting rooms, a faculty incubator space, and three faculty offices. 

“Buildings don’t create programs, people do. Buildings provide resources and create opportunities, and the Gilder Center opens up a world of possibilities.” — Bea Garcia, assistant head of school for academic programs and dean of faculty

Faculty members have been eagerly preparing programs and initiatives within the three floors of Gilder Center — as well as just outside of the building — that will maximize academic opportunities for NMH students. 

Garcia celebrates the Gilder Center as a learning center for the whole school, in addition to a building for STEM classes. The building has the potential to break up silos, she explains, as teachers are excited about more access to resources that allow them to provide instruction across disciplines and provide new hands-on learning opportunities for students. 

One especially unique aspect is a fabrication laboratory where students can, “spark ideas,” Garcia said. Science teacher David Warren will oversee the space and guide students as they imagine, design, and fabricate projects. The fabrication laboratory will bear the name of longtime NMH trustee Peter Guild '64.

At the heart of the Gilder Center will be an expansive lobby — or “hub” — with glass walls to enhance the sense of community and collaboration. “It’s a light, bright place,” Hargrove said. “It’s uplifting, and I think it’s a place where students — and teachers – are going to want to be.”

There, students will be able to watch a real-time feed of the building’s water and energy, see reports from a campus weather station, or learn about levels of dust and smoke in the air through a special air sensor. And these feeds will funnel into classrooms, said Becca Malloy, environmental science teacher and Gilder Center program coordinator. “Students can use the data for work they’re doing in the classrooms, whether it’s physics or precalculus or another subject. And they can see how their activities affect the data, by turning on a faucet or starting up their computer,” she said.

Students will also be able to interact with an augmented reality sandbox that projects their actions on a contour map on the sand, or use one of a fleet of thermal-imaging cameras to observe energy usage. And outdoor features such as a rainwater management garden and pollinator houses and gardens will serve as outdoor learning spaces for students and benefit the local ecosystem, Malloy said. 

The importance of collaboration and interdisciplinary study, particularly at the high school level, guides faculty as they develop learning opportunities for students in the Gilder Center, Garcia said. “A student’s art installation, for example, could also have some scientific purpose or an environmental message or application, and by using an interdisciplinary approach, you are going to learn so much more and the outcome is going to be much richer,” she said.

In a previously published article, read about the Gilder Center’s intentional design for environmental sustainability here

Illustration of the Gilder Center by Flansburgh Architects of Boston.