The Garden House Renovation: Packer’s Last Opportunity for Spatial Expansion
Upon receiving their schedules, many Upper School students are disappointed to find a G preceding their classroom numbers. The Garden House, with its bare walls and faint smell of mildew, is not students’ preferred class location. However, in 2022, students’ collective opinion of the space will hopefully be entirely upended.
Over the past decade, enrollment at Packer has increased, generating a need for spatial expansion. To address this demand, the Board of Trustees purchased 100 Clinton Street in 2014, allowing the school to relocate its youngest students and repurpose the Garden House.
The Garden House was built in 1884 to provide Packer’s then-headmaster with a new home and has been repurposed several times since. After serving as a residence, the building housed Preschool and Kindergarten classrooms. Since the creation of the Packer Early Learning Center in 2018, though, it has been home to Upper and Middle School classes.
Working with PBDW architects, a firm known for its integration of historical context into modern design, Packer hopes the new building will provide the community with all that it is currently lacking.
Since the Garden House is a historical landmark, the construction plans needed to be approved by the Landmarks Preservation Committee. Last spring, there were a series of public forums held that were open to members of the Packer community and other Brooklyn Heights residents to ensure that the design remains faithful to the original architecture.
“The intent was to acknowledge Packer’s history and the materials that have been used, which vary from building to building,” said Maxine Coleman, Director of Campus Operations and Public Safety/Project Manager. “I think the new building will do a good job of knitting together these different materials and acknowledging the different styles while still maintaining its own character.”
The new renovation, which will append 13,524 square feet to the 7,804 square-foot existing building, will include several classrooms, offices, and communal spaces. The basement will house an ideation lab and fabrication space, encouraging technological design and its physical realization with the help of state-of-the-art tools.
The ground floor will include a campus center, designed to address the congestion in the current Student Center. The design is not yet finalized, but community members can expect to have access to food and beverages in this space. Still, some students are worried that the center will not be entirely successful in freeing up space.
“I’m a little skeptical of this choice, because, at least right now, the Garden House is just too far out of the way,” said Eli Harrell (‘20).
The current Student Center, though tight, allows all Upper School students to gather in one space. However beautiful the new building may be, some worry that it will fracture the unified nature of the student body. Head of School Dr. Jennifer Weyburn acknowledges this concern, but emphasizes that the space is not designed for any particular group—it will be shaped by the student body as a whole.
“As adults, we’ll have to look at this almost as anthropologists,” said Dr. Weyburn. “After the space gets developed, we’re going to be interested to see where people flow and hang out. If there are things we can do to enhance that, we’re open to it.”
The second and third floors will contain offices and classrooms, one of which will have glass walls opening up to a rooftop terrace.
Because the building will expand northward over the Imagination Station, the plan includes a revamp of the Garden as well. New play structures will be built along Livingston Street, though Packer and PBDW have tried to capture the same peaceful quality that the current space exudes in the designs.
Noah Reinhardt, Assistant Head of School and Middle School Division Head, feels as though the reality of this renovation has not fully entered the consciousness of Packer students.
“I imagine that when the impact becomes clear, students will become more concerned about what life is going to be like,” said Mr. Reinhardt. “The current seniors will have the last graduation in the Garden. There will be other events like May Day and day-to-day uses of the Garden that will suffer.”
Despite these disturbances, the renovation will likely bring monumental improvements to life at Packer. The Garden House offers the last foreseeable opportunity to expand, so everyone involved is dedicated to ensuring it is the best that it possibly can be.
“It will allow us to schedule better, to have better classrooms, and to programmatically develop in the ways that we should at this point in time,” said Mr. Reinhardt. “It’s my wish and my hope that we do a really, really good job, because it’s going to be here forever.”