Construction Continues on Howe and Batch, NEO Renovations Delayed

Ryan Fortani '22, Contributor

Due to national lockdown restrictions in response to the coronavirus, Loomis Chaffee was forced to reevaluate current and upcoming construction projects across the Island. In particular, four major projects were reassessed to determine if they could continue as originally planned: Howe Hall, Batchelder “Batch” Hall, the west colonnade of Grubbs Quadrangle, and the Norris Ely Orchard “NEO” Theater on Ratte Quadrangle. While construction on Howe, Batch, and the west colonnade have continued as planned, the renovation of the NEO has been delayed.
After extensive deliberations following the decision to cancel the rest of the school year due to COVID-19, the school administration decided to continue with the construction on Howe, Batch, and the west colonnade. Due to financial reasons and the need for the dorms to be renovated for the 2020-2021 school year, it would have been difficult to delay the already begun construction in those areas.
“We were worried about [the construction] workers [and] we talked about whether [or not] we should delay. [But] it made sense to continue because we were so far into construction, and we need those dormitories up and running for next year,” Head of School Dr. Sheila Culbert said.
Following this decision, the school and the construction team enacted several regulations to ensure the safety of the workers and the school community while renovations continued during this pandemic.
“The construction company that we are working with is very good. They have put into place all sorts of safety regulations and rules. We were concerned that construction would be closed down, [but] it wasn’t and it hasn’t been yet,” Dr. Culbert said.
While the dorm and colonnade renovations will continue, construction on the NEO, a major project that many students, faculty, families, and alumni have been eagerly anticipating, has been delayed.
The NEO was supposed to undergo a major renovation starting this summer. The plans for the new theater were created in conjunction with Robert A. M. Stern Architects, LLP, and the project received its lead gift by donor John D. Nichols ’49 and his wife, Alexandra C. Nichols. The Nichols family committed 7.5 million dollars to renovating and growing Loomis’ theater and dance programming primarily through this expansion of the NEO.
Unfortunately, since the coronavirus pandemic forced Loomis’ administration to send students home, Dr. Culbert made the decision to delay NEO renovations until during the upcoming school year. As of right now, however, the official date remains indefinite.
“The NEO—that was hard…what we have decided to do is we are going to go through permitting with the town and we are going to go through construction documents. From there, we are going to put that project on hold until it is fully funded through donations. So we probably have about 9 -10 million there, the project has a 14 million dollar total cost. So once we have all the money, we will go forward and I’m hoping that’s not too long of a delay,” Dr. Culbert explained.
This delay in construction is a disappointment to both newly admitted students and current students who eagerly anticipated the theater.
Aidan Cooper ’22, an avid performer in both the fall and winter productions in the NEO this year, explained that he is “super disappointed. If we assume that the construction takes about a year, then for my senior year, I’ll have less time in the new space. It seems optimistic that they’ll completely rebuild the theater before the 2022 school year if they start later. It’s a shame that we won’t have that extra time, but I understand the struggles that everyone is going through and the difficulty of starting the project now amidst the pandemic.”
Students were not the only ones to voice their disappointment with this decision. Faculty members also emphasized their dismay over the delay, although all parties recognized the necessity to halt the project for the time being.
“I am also disappointed, of course, but not surprised because it seems perfectly reasonable given what we are going through. I am eager to see the renovation happen for the students, mostly for the students because they were anticipating it and those students who are not graduating this year were hoping to actually work in the new theater,” said Candice Chirgotis, head of the theater and dance department.