In April 2008, Connecticut Friends School purchased 15.5 acres on the Westport/Norwalk border, approximately six miles from its current location on the grounds of Wilton Friends Meeting House.
Connecticut Friends School is developing the new White Barn Campus in order to increase its student body to 125 students, just over double the number of current students (60). In addition to the entire K-8 student body, the new campus will serve preschoolers. Ongoing generations of children, including Norwalk low-income youth, will receive a top-quality Friends education and share their skills and ideas with their families, neighbors, and the greater community.
With more space, Connecticut Friends School plans to add a pre-school program and to double in size, with a cap of 125 students (much of the effectiveness of the CFS community is tied to its intimate size, and this ambitious project does not lose sight of this foundational fact). The school now runs a Connecticut Friends Summer Camp at the White Barn property.
The White Barn Campus is rich in natural beauty and a variety of habitats to be studied, protected and enhanced. Students of all ages and Connecticut Friends School families and friends will learn from the land and benefit from its abundant beauty.
Connecticut Friends School students are already taking advantage of the White Barn Campus as a living classroom through a truly hands-on curriculum of the environment. Our eldest students built a nature trail from scratch through part of the property. Other middle-schoolers researched, wrote, and published a field guide to 20 of the trees at White Barn. Lower school children observed woodland animals and used math to calculate the volume of water in the pond.
Faculty are creating curricular units on nutrition, health, agriculture, cooking, and composting via an organic vegetable garden that will be a focal point of science units throughout the school. The garden program developing on the White Barn campus is a model that will be available to other educators interested in an edible garden curriculum.
The photographs below capture some of the natural beauty of the White Barn property as well as the White Barn Theatre before its renovation. Black and white sketches on the interior walls include an original by famous Broadway caricaturist Al Hirshfeld. The Lortel home is shown after its remodel, which was completed in September 2008.
We are an unconventional school doing an unconventional capital campaignseeking "those of similar leading" who feel called to help make this ambitious project a reality. Optimistic and proactive founders, visionaries and pioneers, we are committed to education, conservation, and arts leadership as a way to address pressing needs in our community and the world.
We already have raised $2 million out of the necessary $10 million needed to move the school to the new site. Funding for the remaining $8 million is the goal of our Open the Way Capital Campaign. We will continue to fund-raise over the next several years.
There is an immediate need to raise $4 million in funding for the renovation of the historic White Barn Theatre Building and related site work. The refurbished theater structure will serve initially as Connecticut Friends School's main classroom building on the property. Additionally we seek to pay down the remaining $4 million in land purchase costs.
TOTAL current need is $8 million.
The White Barn property was the home of a 148-seat summer theatre and residence of Lucille Lortel, the “Queen of Off-Broadway” productions. Since 1947, the White Barn Theatre had been an asset to the community but was closed in 2002. By 2006, a real estate developer had purchased the land and was going to replace the theatre building with luxury homes. Instead, Connecticut Friends School raised the down payment to purchase the White Barn property and rescue the historic White Barn Theatre. The school also secured agreements between five different stakeholder groups (White Barn neighbors, Norwalk Land Trust, elected officials, the previous owner of the property and CFS) to place 5.2 acres into conservation easement that, in turn, reduced the purchase price for the White Barn property by $700,000 via city and state open space grants. The school paid down $2 million of the $6.1 million purchase price and received financing from the seller for the remaining $4 million.
We have already renovated a private residence on the White Barn property, referred to as the Lortel House, named for the founding artistic director of the summer theater. The house will serve indefinitely as CFS staff housing as well as a venue for meetings and receptions.
We have approval from the city of Norwalk to operate a school on the White Barn campus. Our immediate goal is to renovate the existing theater to use as initial classroom space. Connecticut Friends School will renovate the structure while preserving its integrity, to create classroom and administrative space. Classroom facilities in the renovated theater building will accommodate 95 students.
The New York Times, Sunday, 10.22.06 (PDF)
The Advocate, Saturday, 2.24.07 (PDF)
The Advocate, Wednesday, 2.28.07 (PDF)
The Hour, Wednesday, 2.28.07 (PDF)
The Advocate, Saturday, 4.21.07 (PDF)
The Hour, Wednesday, 4.25.07 (PDF)
The Hour, Thursday, 4.17.08 (PDF)
The Advocate, Thursday, 4.24.08 (PDF)
Norwalk Citizen News, Friday, 4.25.08 (PDF)
The Hour, Wednesday, 10.01.08 (PDF)
The New York Times, Wednesday, 3.10.10 (PDF)