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Starting a Dream

Potomac School holds groundbreaking ceremony for $40 million expansion project.

The only thing brighter than the summer-like sunshine were the smiles on the faces of Ted Leonsis and Bob Kettler Friday afternoon.

After years of dreaming, months of planning and preparation, they were able to dig their shovels into the ground to begin the Potomac School's expansion project, the construction of a new Upper School building that will be open and ready for students by the beginning of the 2006-2007 school year.

"This has been building for three years in terms of concept and places and ideas," said Leonsis, vice chair of the Campaign for Potomac's Future.

In the course of the past five months, the committee was able to raise $21 million for the construction of the new building, in addition to a $20 million bond that the school had secured.

"We start this project fully funded," he said. "This is fantastic."

The project will take 16 months to complete, which includes modifying the topography of the Tundra, an open area between the Middle and Upper schools where students currently spend time between classes playing Frisbee.

"Our students will move from the current building into the new one, and the current building will then be rehabilitated as another phase of the renovation project," he said.

An endowment of $8 million will also be established to fund ongoing projects at the school, Leonsis said.

"The whole community of about 10,000 people, including students, their families, alumni, has gotten behind us to help see this dream realized," he said. "We reached out to 120 families during the fundraising for the first phase of this project, and 110 families helped out."

Additionally, the EverMay community in McLean, located on Route 123 just west of the Potomac School, was "very helpful" in working with the school to establish and secure any zoning modifications needed to handle the slight expansion of the school's population, he said.

"The school is going to become a model for schools of the future," said Kettler, chairman of the Campaign for Potomac's Future. "The school is designed to have a lot of multifunctional space so kids can always be learning. The classrooms will be broken into pods designed around each specific function," he said.

In order to continue the school's concern for the environment, the new building will include a greenhouse and green roof, with gardens and plants the students can not only care for, but use as an area to learn, he said.

"The connection to the environment is important here," Kettler said.

"There's a beautiful stream valley here that we want to be able to utilize and appreciate. The whole building is also designed to be as energy efficient as possible — lots of steel and glass."

During the short groundbreaking ceremony Friday afternoon, the school's headmaster, Geoff Jones, repeatedly talked about the realization of the "dream" of the building for both students and staff.

"AS WE'VE REFLECTED on the centennial anniversary of Potomac, the kind of hard work and dedication we've made in growing in the past one hundred years is evident today," Jones said, addressing the school body assembled on the Tundra.

"We want to provide the opportunity to dream and imagine, and to allow our students to bring in their dreams for the future," he said.

"It is fitting that we close our centennial year with this groundbreaking," said LuAnne Bennett, chair of the school's Board of Trustees.

"The greatest reward we can have today is to see our community come together to celebrate our growth," Kettler said to the students, alumni and members of the construction and engineering teams who have worked to design and plan the building.

As president of the class of 2006, Sam Gulland said it was unfortunate that he and his classmates will not remain at Potomac long enough to see the building completed.

"Potomac is not a big school, but our students are so motivated to do so many things," he said. "A handful of students will make an enormous difference. There will be more people to try out for plays, to add to bands, to join teams. The new students will provide new voices, new points of view, new ideas to our school."

The addition of new students may also provide the opportunity for the addition of classes and programs, he said, which will further enrich the school's curriculum.

"No one wants to see bulldozers level the Tundra. We'd much rather be playing Frisbee on it during our senior year," Gulland said, but it is a necessary loss for the potential future gain of the school.

"Today is not about building of a new school structure," Jones said. "This is about expanding on the hopes and dreams of our school and our students for years to come."