The fish pond is pretty popular. There's also a library with a view of the lacrosse field, and wooden benches on narrow porches, reminiscent of seaside resorts of old.
But it's the air conditioning that has positively charmed the Gilman boys during the unseasonably warm first month in their new lower school building on the North Baltimore campus.
"This new building has so many great things in it -- it's air-conditioned," said fourth-grader Brooks Hauf, his priority clear. Then, with table mates at lunch chiming in, the 9-year-old listed other high points: phones in their bigger classrooms, more computers, a shorter walk to the gym.
Students and teachers are discovering the amenities of the new Henry H. Callard Lower School, the 45,000-square-foot, two-story building with lots of glass that had been rising near Northern Parkway and Roland Avenue for the past year.
The building will be formally dedicated Friday, but it opened with the school year last month, giving its 264 students and more than 30 staff members more space, new equipment and, for many, a new outlook.
While planning the lower school, Gilman officials plumbed the expertise of the faculty and staff and looked at other area schools for ideas to borrow. "The porches out front had their roots at the Harford Day School. The fish pond came from Calvert School," said the lower school head, Leith Herrmann.
"We ended up with a building that is pretty functional and that is architecturally pretty striking, too," said Herrmann, standing in the two-story foyer overseen by a portrait of the late Henry Callard, Gilman's headmaster from 1943 to 1963. "I want everybody to feel this is their building."
The $5.5-million brick building is about one-third larger than the 75-year-old lower school facility that occupied the space before its demolition in the summer of 1997.
The Callard building has two computer labs, two science rooms, a large music room, separate classrooms for French and Spanish, and windows everywhere -- even at the back of the stage.
It is the windows -- and the views they offer -- that dominate. Interior halls feature windows and glass doors, allowing passers-by to see what's going on in the classrooms.
The library has the premier spot, adjacent to the computer labs, with a view of athletic fields on one side and the upper school dome on another, Herrmann said.
With more than 20 classrooms, the lower school can accommodate three homerooms each of first through fifth grades and two sections of pre-first, though there is only one this year.
"In our old school, we had two homerooms for each grade, with 25 or 26 in each. It was too many," said Herrmann. "Now, each homeroom has 16 to 18 students. This is our reason for building the school."
Smaller classrooms interspersed with the larger homerooms accommodate math and reading groups that usually number 10 to 12, he said.
Gilman is one of two area private schools to open new elementary facilities this year. Garrison Forest, a girls boarding and day school in Owings Mills, is using its new building to increase enrollment while keeping students in small classes.
The $2.5-million expansion allows Garrison Forest to have two sections of each grade, while keeping classes at about 16 students. Its lower school has 142 students this year, compared with 110 last year, said Headmaster Peter O'Neill.
Within a year or two, the early grades will have reached their capacity of 160, he said. Garrison Forest has 595 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
At Gilman, the Callard building gives art teacher Jackie Knipp a new outlook -- literally.
"This is my 24th year at Gilman. For 22 of those years, I was below ground, and it leaked," Knipp said of the basement studio that came with running water.
Now she is on the second floor, with two walls of windows. "The best thing," she says, "is the light, and it's also a very functional art room. It's roomy, the floor's not prissy. It's just a great space for young boys. The quality of work will be better here."
Fifth-grade teacher John Xanders feels a lift from the new school, too.
"This building has rejuvenated me," said the 16-year Gilman veteran and graduate of the Class of '77.
"We're all scrambling. It's fun," he said, noting that the size of his classroom is what he likes best.
In the old building, he said, "I used to have to do high hurdles to get to my desk."
Now his classroom is larger, his class smaller, and his students "a little more proud of their surroundings," Xanders said. "I love the building."
Pub Date: 10/05/98