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Design Develop Helps Miller School Envision a Flourishing Future

A development project can have low environmental impact while providing major improvements for the community - with responsible, strategic design and planning.

Opened in 1878 with a bequest from local businessman Samuel Miller, Miller School of Albemarle has been a foundational institution in the Charlottesville community for over 150 years. Originally an all-boys boarding school, Miller School is now home to 225 co-ed students in 8th-12th grade, about a third of whom live on the campus full time.

The school sits on over 1,000 acres, 637 of which are under conservation easement with the LandTrust of Virginia with the core campus inhabiting only about 150 acres of this property. Three of their buildings are listed in the National Register of Historic Places and because of the school’s age, it does not have to conform to current zoning laws. However, as soon as any changes are made to the site, special use permits have to be acquired to bring the site into conformity.

For the last 150 years the campus has stayed about the same, but the community around it has grown tremendously. Head of School, J. Michael Drude, saw an increased need for the challenging, hands-on education Miller School offers, especially for younger students. The current facilities do not support a larger student body, so knowing that new structures and changes to existing facilities would be needed to support this growth, he began looking for partners to help him explore and communicate his vision.

At the core of this vision was continued stewardship of the beautiful property on which the school sits while simultaneously achieving careful, deliberate and strategic growth. A big part of this included expanding the school through a partnership with Seven Rivers Day School to offer K-12 programming.

He reached out to Line and Grade Civil Engineering firm and Design Develop to help determine feasibility and create a conceptual master plan that clearly and beautifully represents to the community how Miller School plans to responsibly double its capacity over the next several decades while preserving the original and culturally significant buildings on its campus as well as its natural surroundings.

Helping clients bring their vision to life, while also grounding it in the reality of zoning ordinances, budget constraints and structural feasibility, is just the type of challenge we love. The locations of both of our offices in Charlottesville and Baltimore necessitates working with historic properties, conservation requirements, special use permits and the rezoning process. These challenges are a normal part of our process and workflow, so we were happy to team up with Mr. Drude, the Board of Trustees at Miller School and Daniel Hyer of Line and Grade to help navigate the process.

The plan this team together had to not just put to paper the client’s vision, but also express to the planning commission, board of supervisors and community members how this growth could be done respectfully, responsibly and in context. It also needed to show how the growth was to be phased out over time, so that each portion of the vision could be carefully implemented in harmony with the site before moving on to the next.

The final presented plan included proposed updates for:

  • New gym

  • Outdoor recreational area

  • Open air theater

  • Pedestrian spine

  • Outdoor seating around main building

  • New pedestrian walkways

  • Additional social spaces including a courtyard

  • New dorms

Understanding that all of these updates are a lot to tackle, we broke them down into five steps that would be paced out over many years.

The first step is to update existing dormitories, strengthen pedestrian paths and the vehicular route around the campus. This first step does not require any new construction and aligns with historical conservation requirements for structures that are updated. It also addresses critical improvements for current students who reside on campus, and creates better flow for those who commute into school each day.

The second step is to build new dorm buildings along the campus mall near the existing dormitories that are architecturally aligned with existing structures. With these new dorms complete, the resident boys will be able to move out of the Old Main building’s ground floor, which frees up space for step three - to renovate the old boarding residence area into much needed office and classroom space.

Step four constructs additional dorms (there will be three new dorm halls total), a new gym and additional parking to accommodate a larger student body and therefore larger faculty. The fifth and final step renovates the fourth floor of the Old Main building and develops recreational spaces and additional parking along the existing campus mall and cleared ridge.

All of these updates do not expand the developed portion of the property, but rather capitalize on underused outdoor space, renovate historically important buildings and infill new structures in the current campus footprint. Being able to show all the stakeholders how little these updates would impact the site and surrounding acreage was critical in getting the planning commission’s buy-in and recommendation for approval.

We’re very hopeful to see the plan be passed through the Board of Commissioners later this year and even more excited to see Miller School build upon its legacy while leveraging its academic, historic and unique physical presence to provide a better, expanded experience to current and new students.



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