Looking Back and to the Future
Looking Back and to the Future
Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of our Chapel and Performing Arts Center
BY MELISSA ULSAKER MAAS ’76
During the past 20 years, the Chapel and Performing Arts Center (CPAC) located on the Upper School campus has become pivotal to the St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School community and is one of our iconic and most loved buildings. Students, faculty, parents, alumni, and friends have gathered in CPAC for chapel services, performances, assemblies, academic convocations, award ceremonies, and other large and small events. The cross on the bell tower is the highest point on campus, in recognition of our Episcopal faith and commitment “to pursue goodness as well as knowledge and to honor the unique value of each of our members as a child of God in a caring community.” To this day, SSSAS is grateful to the Saints community for supporting the New Century Fund Campaign, which provided the school with this exceptional place for worship and creative expression.
In the 1990s, the Upper School held chapels in the gym, and the Black Box—which seats approximately 150 people—was the only theater. The performing arts program had grown and was bursting at the seams. Discussions surrounding the possibility of building a chapel and performing arts center began as part of the New Century Fund Campaign, which started in 1996 and consisted of two phases. Phase I, a silent phase, was launched to help finance an ambitious, two-part building program outlined in the school’s master plan. The goal for Phase I was to raise $5 million for major renovations and additions on all three campuses, which were completed between 1996 and 1999. Phase II, the public part of the campaign, targeted a $6-million budget for the new Chapel and Performing Center.
Campaign co-chairs, Rita Meyer and Fred Barnes ’60, were deeply invested in the success of the New Century Fund. As a Saint, Fred was delighted to send his son and daughter to SSSAS where they joined the classes of 2000 and 2003, and to give back to the school by serving as a member of the Board of Governors from 1994 to 2000. For a school centered in the church, Fred felt a chapel and performing arts center was long overdue and that it would greatly enhance the spiritual life of the students. Rita, who has six children—all SSSAS alumni—served on the Board of Governors as a member from 1993-1994, as vice chair from 1995-1996, and as chair from 1997-1998 and again from 2003-2004. She and Fred were compelled to co-chair the campaign because they believed 100 percent in the future of the school and the education it provides. “I always wanted an even playing field for academics, the arts, religion, and sports,” Rita, who prides herself on being a straight shooter, recalls. “At SSSAS your children not only receive an excellent academic education, they also grow strong roots and a foundation for their future, grounded in honesty, integrity, spirituality, creativity, and an ability to lead.”
During Homecoming Weekend in 1999, hundreds of parents, alumni, and friends of the school came together to celebrate the New Century Fund Campaign kick-off amidst balloons and music by the Upper School jazz ensemble. Fred and Rita announced the success of Phase I and launched Phase II, hoping to raise another $5 million in order to break ground.
By June of 2000, major leadership gifts helped turn the dream into a reality, prompting the Board of Governors to move the building project forward. Cox Graae + Spach architects were hired and the design phase was set in motion. The plans included a bell tower, state-of-the-art auditorium, classrooms, rehearsal spaces, a green room, and storage facilities. The inside of the bell tower would be a sanctuary where the community could go to feel connected, comforted, and renewed, and resulted in a beautiful, peaceful, and light-filled prayer room—perfect for contemplation and reflection. The new building was designed to seat an audience of 500, more than three times the capacity of the Black Box Theater.
The benchmark figure for breaking ground on the project—a total of $10 million in gifts and pledges—was achieved by June 2001, and HITT Contracting broke ground in the summer. As the construction progressed, so did the level of excitement and anticipation. Rita believes the key to successful fundraising lies in preparation. For her, one of the most rewarding parts of co-chairing the campaign was meeting with potential donors. “Like me, at the heart of their support was an appreciation for the school’s core values,” Rita says. “So many people choose to give to their colleges, but giving back to the school in which they spent their primary and secondary years should be even more important. That school helped lay the groundwork for college and the rest of their lives.”
On April 9, 2003, more than 1,300 members of the community witnessed the dedication and consecration of CPAC. Despite heavy rain, the atmosphere was charged with joy and enthusiasm. The ceremony included the blessing of the prayer room, named in memory of The Rev. Emmett H. Hoy, Jr, revered former headmaster of St. Stephen’s from 1955-1975 and featured the beautiful stained-glass window, which towers above the stage upon which the altar stands each week for chapel.
The transformative support of the Saints community made CPAC a tangible reality. But the building, which has provided spaces for chapel, performances, and teaching as hoped, has also revealed countless opportunities for enjoyment and creative exploration surpassing everyone’s dreams and expectations. As SSSAS prepares to break ground at the Upper School in June for the largest construction project in the school’s history, we are motivated by the impact CPAC has had on the campus and look to the future with confidence and optimism.
With the community’s support of the Saints Together: Our Campaign for Community, we can catapult our facilities to match the quality and caliber of a Saints experience, with large, new academic general use and science classrooms, art studios, a student commons and dining center to bring us together and enhance conversation and collaboration, spaces for planned group meetings, and a large terrace for events previously held off campus. No doubt the new spaces will create possibilities we haven’t dreamed of, and like CPAC, it will be a journey of discoveries we haven’t yet imagined.