Friends Select's New Upper School STEAM Building

The momentum of the Advance Friends Select: Transformation Campaign continues with the expansion of Friends Select’s campus across 16th Street. Work is under way on the historic townhome at 1520 Race Street, which will officially become the upper school’s center for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM), with four floors and 15,000 square feet for classrooms, laboratories, and studios.

“We use the term STEAM because we believe it is essential that we include the arts, the creative process that is so intrinsic to all of the STEM fields,” said head of school Michael Gary. “These new, modern, STEAM-focused spaces will allow our upper school students to exercise their creativity and further develop their passions in a facility that was designed with a commitment to sustainability and the building’s historic integrity in mind.”

Working with Anchor Management Group, Friends Select’s new STEAM Building will be complete for the 2022-23 academic year. Each of the building’s four floors will include dynamic learning spaces that are both aesthetically appealing and designed with modern equipment to further support the school’s commitment to excellence in teaching and learning. “I think it makes a statement that Friends Select values the sciences, mathematics, and the arts. By housing these departments in the same building, it also fosters the potential for more co-curricular work,” said upper school science teacher and department chair Natalie Mayer P’32.

Designed by James Bradberry Architects, the STEAM Building will also include several communal spaces with innovative features such as furniture that can be easily recon-figured to accommodate study groups, club meetings, and collaborative work. “Flexible space for upper school students in our current Parkway Building is at a minimum, and the non-classroom gathering spaces in the new building will provide more opportunities for students to work together or with faculty,” shared upper school associate director Erin Pratt. This summer, the current upper school science labs in the Parkway Building will be updated for upper school humanities classes, and will also be ready in time for the upcoming school year.

The addition of Friends Select’s STEAM Building speaks to upper school students’ growing interests in science and art disciplines over the past decade. Registration in upper school art classes has increased 28% during that span, and the art department has introduced course content including digital illustration, animation, photography, filmmaking, 3D modeling and 3D printing. The upper school science curriculum has experienced a 33% increase in students taking advanced science courses and electives. “The increase in enrollment in art and science electives over the past decade is a reflection of the amazing teaching and programming that has come out of those departments,” Erin said. “The new STEAM Building will provide classrooms and labs that will reflect and further enhance the already stellar programming that has been coming from these departments. I can only imagine what students and teachers will be able to do in the updated spaces.”

All incoming upper school students take the required core science classes in physics, chemistry, and biology. These creatively taught, lab-based core classes provide students with a strong foundation in the sciences and often spark student interest to take the subsequent science electives we offer. As Natalie said, “Whether students are choosing these electives to better prepare for college-level experiences or simply to further explore their science passions and interests, we have many students doubling up in the science electives to experience it all!”

Students are eager for an enhanced educational experience in the new STEAM Building. “I’m especially excited about the new science labs, and being one of the first classes to enjoy its new devices and space,” said Joana Santos ’24.

The STEAM Building will also include a fine arts studio for drawing and painting classes; a studio for three-dimensional curriculum, including metalsmithing, sculpture, and glassblowing; and a ceramics and kiln room. Additionally, the building will feature a digital design lab equipped with a sound-proof green screen room for creating videos and podcasts, as well as equipment such as 3D printers,a laser cutter, die-cutting machines, and a photo printer. This space will specifically support student work in photography, graphic design, 3D modeling, digital illustration, video editing, and production of the student-run news outlet, The Falcon. Adjacent to the digital design studio will be a video production and photography space to accommodate everything from photo shoots with backdrops to filming segments with a green screen for The Falcon.  

“This new space is essential to having a thriving digital arts and media program that stands out among independent schools in the area. We are already doing work curricularly that is not yet happening in peer schools, but now we will have a space where we can continue to push the boundaries of digital art and media production at the high school level,” said Zoë Blatt, upper school digital media teacher. “Friends Select is one of the only schools in the area to have a two-year performing or visual arts requirement, with many students continuing to take arts courses for all four years. There is also a lot of student interest in The Falcon and the journalism course, where students explore both traditional journalistic writing and contemporary forms of multimedia journalism. This new space will accommodate that growing student interest.”

The construction of the STEAM Building is being executed with a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as well as sustainability, with features such as solar panels and high-efficiency energy systems. “We want to support diverse, minority-owned, local businesses as an extension of our belief of being a strategic partner in the city of Philadelphia and long-time resident,” Michael explained. “Sustainability, both environmental and financial, is a major goal in this campaign, and sustaining and bringing new life to a historic building aligns with our Quaker identity.”  

Mike Rufo, president of Anchor Management Group, the team overseeing the project management and construction of both the STEAM Building and the Parkway Building, said, “As is on all projects, attention to detail regarding DEI and sustainability is second only to the safety and well-being of all associated with the project. During the development and construction of the Parkway Building, we achieved meaningful impact as it pertained to both DEI and sustainability; our intentions and goals are to achieve equal or better results for the STEAM Building.” For example, of the 23 vendors Anchor Management Group worked with on the Parkway Building transformation, four were women-owned, five were minority-owned, and another five were both women- and minority-owned.

The addition of a dedicated upper school STEAM Building is a significant chapter in Friends Select’s history, which represents a recommitment to Center City as well as a dedication to excellence in teaching and learning for current and future students. “This expansion of Friends Select will definitely attract new students, faculty, and staff to the school, who will use these spaces for new academic journeys,” said Joana. “We are excited to have a larger campus without losing the feeling of being a tight-knit, Quaker school.”   

For more information on supporting the STEAM Building and a list of named gift opportunities, contact Christine Jefferson, chief development officer, at chrisj@friends-select.org or 215.561.5900, x3141.