Established in 1946, Thomas Jefferson School is a private, independent day and boarding school in suburban St. Louis. Renowned for the rigor and depth of its liberal-arts program, the school is also known for the close and informal relationship between students and their teachers. The campus’ first building, a 1920s grand Tudor single-family home traditionally called “Main”, houses much of the classroom and office space with a 1980s addition, Sayers Hall, accommodating the rest. In 1954, a lamella roofed gymnasium by architect William Bernoudy added to the activity on campus and small cottages built in the 1970s and 80s for boarding students established its inner core. With multiple 21st-century campus needs, Thomas Jefferson engaged Mackey Mitchell to develop a master plan for the campus. The challenge: to preserve the charming, pastoral campus character while upgrading facilities to meet the needs of present and future students.
The master planning process begins by engaging with parents, students, faculty, and staff to understand the unique aspects of the school, what works, and what needs to be improved. As we began to coalesce this information at TJ, we worked with an executive level master planning committee to develop critical success factors. Throughout the process each aspect of the school was examined individually and as part of the greater whole-from vehicular routes across campus to arrangements of individual science labs. Major goals that stemmed from this process include creating a cohesive campus with a true sense of place and flow; establishing spaces appropriate for 21st-century learning and in line with TJ’s discussion-based teaching method; and building spaces for community and collaboration throughout.
Rather than prescriptive and linear steps, the Master Plan offers a flexible outline of how the needs of TJ can be met through a multiple phased approach to renovations and new construction. The orientation of Main can flip outward to face the street with a reimagined entry sequence. New and upgraded classroom space coupled with a new modern addition can thoughtfully complement the original historic Tudor house. New residential space is proposed to be a “mini-village” of efficient residence halls or townhouses, which can also function as “flop space” away from the intensity of rigorous school life. The estate’s historic carriage house, currently a dormitory called Gables, would be renovated to support a small black box addition for performances and campus gathering space. The campus overall would be gently reshaped around an intentional oval (pedestrian-only) “quad” space.
Without exception, the feedback I have received about our Mackey Mitchell team, from everyone who has been involved with the master planning process, has been glowingly positive.
- Elizabeth L. Holekamp, Ph.D.
Head of School