“This building is the first of its kind.”
“There’s nothing like this anywhere in the country.”
“We’re charting new territory in public education.”
Loudoun County school leaders haven’t held back in describing just how different the future Academies of Loudoun will be. Claims like these are tossed out too often to tout the uniqueness of a project, but in this case, it’s no exaggeration.
The 315,000-square-foot Academies of Loudoun is designed to house magnet programs that focus on engineering and science, as well as two dozen career and technical programs—everything from culinary arts to masonry. When it opens in August 2018, it will bring the Academy of Science, C.S. Monroe Technology Center and the Academy of Engineering and Technology under one roof.
The building was designed so that students and teachers in those programs can easily work together on research and projects. The physics lab oversees the auto-tech lab. The practical nursing classroom sits near the specialized pharmacy lab. A greenhouse in the environmental plant science program is not far from the makerspace. That room is equipped with interior garage doors that open up to the Innovation Commons, an open space that is accessible from most of the building’s classrooms and workspaces.
“We’ll be able to fly our drones in here,” Science Supervisor Odette D. Scovel said, standing in the Innovation Commons. “This space—this building—is so flexible, it really depends on students’ and teachers’ imagination to do what they want with it.”
Scovel and Academies of Loudoun Principal Tinell Priddy gave School Board members a tour of the campus Friday. It is still very much a construction site, with more than 250 men and women working on the 119-acre property each day. But the center for learning is coming into view, with the exterior walls nearly buttoned up and drywall going up on the interior walls. Rooftop outdoor learning commons, for one, look ready for students, equipped with benches and tables inviting teens to sit and study or eat lunch.
“I want to come to school here,” School Board member Beth Huck (At Large) said, walking past one of the many floor to ceiling windows that looks out over the wooded campus.
Students enrolled in one of the 30 programs housed at the Academies will attend every other day. That will allow the programs there to enroll a total of 3,000 students each semester.
Derk Jeffrey, senior principal at Stantec, the architect for the Academies, said it is always surreal to walk through a facility that, only more than a year ago, was just an idea discussed in board meetings.
“The best buildings always start with a client with a vision, and that’s how this project was. Seeing the clients excited about getting their vision realized, that’s the best part of my job,” he said.
The Academies was designed to harness the interests and talents of all students—not just the top-performing ones—and prepare them for a variety of career paths.
Holder, the contractor building the Academies, shares school leaders’ passion for that idea. Holder Senior Project Manager Callie Gregory said the company makes a point to connect with local students wherever they have projects and invite them to get a glimpse of career paths in the construction industry.
She gave the example of a recent Monroe Tech graduate who Holder brought on as an intern. Through the internship, the young man discovered he enjoyed plumbing, and has since taken a job with Javier Plumbing, a subcontractor working on the Academies of Loudoun.
“We want to expose students to the variety of trades that are out there and, ideally, we want them to come work in construction,” Gregory said. “That’s a good example of how this comes full circle.”
Construction on the Academies of Loudoun is scheduled to wrap up early next summer, and the first students will begin classes at the school in August 2018.