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Right Place, Right Time

MacDuffie’s New Campus in Granby Offers Room for Growth

Steve Griffin, left, and Tom Addicks

Steve Griffin, left, and Tom Addicks say the Granby campus can help create a stronger balance between boarding and day students.

Steve Griffin wasn’t at the MacDuffie School campus on Ames Hill in Springfield when the June 1, 2011 tornado tore through the middle of it, uprooting huge trees and damaging century-old buildings as it moved east.

He started as head of the then-121-year-old school two weeks later, when the institution was still sorting out the damage, adding up the cost, and counting blessings — the tornado hit on the last day of classes, and students and staff took shelter in a basement, with no recorded injuries.

Originally, Griffin’s first assignment when he arrived was to oversee relocation of the school to new quarters on the grounds of the former St. Hyacinth seminary in Granby — a process that started roughly two years earlier — but the tornado changed that plan somewhat. The new first order business would be a healing process.

“We have many tornado stories from the campus,” said Griffin. “And from my standpoint, since I wasn’t here during the storm, I was unaware of the extent of it, but you had people, even a year later, opening file folders and seeing shards of glass fall out.”

But if the memories of the tornado and some of the physical evidence of that day still remain, MacDuffie has certainly moved on from that calamity and some years of economic struggle that preceded it, and the new campus in Granby has greatly facilitated that process.

Indeed, the move represented what Griffin called a “new day” for the institution, and in many respects.

He explained to BusinessWest that the new campus enables the school to market itself more effectively to a much wider audiences — from residents of Hampshire County communities such as Amherst and Northampton, who were previously intimidated by a commute to Springfield, to international students.

The sprawling campus, coupled with recent renovation and expansion efforts, are enabling MacDuffie to continue and expand its respected academic programs, while also making huge strides in efforts to take its athletic programs to a much higher level.

The former St. Hyacinth seminary in Granby

The former St. Hyacinth seminary in Granby offers an environment in which the MacDuffie School can grow, with more classroom space, boarding quarters, and several acres of playing fields.

At the Springfield site, there were no playing fields to speak of, said Tom Addicks, assistant head of school and a math teacher, adding that the school had to make use of various municipal parks and sports facilities. “And here, we have so many playing fields and a very in-depth sports program, and that was very appealing to us.”

The sprawling grounds that roll out like green carpet to the stately stone former seminary offers the classic New England preparatory-school experience that appeals to parents of American and international students, and allows MacDuffie to compete with nearby Wilbraham Monson, Deerfield Academy, and Suffield Academy, said Griffin.

“The site is a real gem; it’s got the ‘look’ when you drive up the drive — ‘majestic’ is a great word for it considering the open space, the pastoral setting,” he noted. “I think parents feel this will be a safe environment for their children to learn, both day students as well as international students.”

And there are now hopes — and high expectations — for growing enrollment in both the day and boarding categories, he went on, adding that enrollment is currently at 246, with a capacity of 270 and a firm resolve to get to that number.

For this issue and its focus on education and going back to school, BusinessWest toured the ‘new’ MacDuffie, and talked at length with administrators about why the new location and facilities will help students grow physically, culturally, and academically.

 

History Lesson

MacDuffie can trace its history back to one of the first graduates of Radcliffe College, Abigail MacDuffie.

In 1890, she and her husband, John, recognized a need in the Greater Springfield area for a strong college-preparatory school that would open doors for women and provide them access to to the same quality education they received at Radcliffe and Harvard, respectively.

They opened the MacDuffie School with 70 girls and quickly earned a reputation for excellence, one that would eventually draw students from across the area and around the world. By 1990, the school had taken on a far more international feel — in many ways out of necessity —  with students from many foreign countries.

By the dawn of the new millennium, however, MacDuffie’s enrollment was falling, and the urban campus in Springfield, one that had charm but was still lacking in facilities, was viewed as one of the main reasons why.

The school’s board quietly began a search for a new, more suburban home, and eventually narrowed that search to the former St. Hyacinth’s, which had become a temporary home to Holyoke Catholic High School.

MacDuffie officials eventually commenced negotiations with Wayne Brewer, who was eyeing the site as home for the planned Granby Preparatory Academy, a facility he blueprinted based on a model very similar to MacDuffie’s. The school would go on to purchase the assets and intellectual property of Brewer’s business.

The school now owns 26 of the 500 acres at the St. Hyacinth’s location, with an additional 29 acres in negotiation. It has invested millions in building infrastructure, sports fields, and classroom improvements — including expanded dance, music, and art facilities — since the summer of 2011. Currently, a new computer lab is under construction within the main academic building, while a new, 400-seat auditorium, more classroom and boarding space, and sports facilities are in the planning stages.

The new location had an immediate and profound impact on enrollment, said Griffin, noting that there were 175 students at MacDuffie in the spring of 2011, and 206 enrolled by the start of classes that fall. The numbers have been steadily rising, due in large part to larger boarding facilities on the St. Hyacinth’s campus, which have enabled more students from overseas to enroll.

“There’s a real international appeal,” said Griffin. “The old campus was limited in its footprint, and we’ve been able to double the boarding population, and that’s just in two years.”

Moving forward, the school wants to grow enrollment in both the day and boarding categories, and create more balance within the student body; currently, 60% of those enrolled are boarding students, while the stated goal is a 50-50 split.

Historically, the school has been known for its performing-arts programs, specifically drama and dance, but is also noted for its math program, Addicks told BusinessWest. But while the academic offerings have never been an issue for the school, broadening its sporting opportunities had historically been a challenge.

The move to Granby has enabled the school to aggressively address such issues, said Addicks, noting that the MacDuffie Mustangs, members of the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council (NEPSAC), have moved to the AA division from the D division, a move made possible by improved facilities and a larger pool of student athletes.

The sports program includes boys and girls soccer, girls volleyball and lacrosse, badminton, cross country, golf, a swim club (which operates out of the Holyoke YMCA), tennis, ultimate Frisbee, and an advanced boys and girls basketball program that is bringing townspeople of Granby to the gymnasium.

“The town is realizing that this is some really high-quality basketball,” said Griffin. “The enhanced facilities have allowed us to broaden our appeal, so to speak.”

And broadening their appeal couldn’t have come at a better time.

“We survived the recession when other independent schools did not,” Griffin said. “However, while some private schools are recession-proof, most parents have to rely on more financial assistance these days.”

With day-school tuition at $20,250 (grades 6-8) and $25,250 (grades 9-12), and boarding tuition at $48,650 for all grades, Griffin and Addicks say MacDuffie’s prices are certainly competitive, and now offer additional value with the facilities at the new campus.

“I think our biggest selling point is the relationship we have between our teachers and our students, and our success at integrating our international students with our day students is a very important part of MacDuffie,” said Addicks.

Added Griffin, “we want our claim to fame to be known as the local full-service educational institution that can offer the individualized attention in a caring community.”

 

Common Ground

The tornado that touched down on June 1, 2011 represented a sad final chapter to MacDuffie’s long history in Springfield.

But as that book was closing, another was getting set to open 15 miles to the north.

The move to Granby was undertaken to give the school that new day that Griffin described, and the opportunity to grow and evolve in ways that were simply not possible on the Ames Hill campus.

Two years after the relocation, the picture is considerably brighter than it had been, and the potential for the future is as vast as the open spaces at MacDuffie’s new mailing address.

 

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at taras@businesswest.com