A committed group of parents envision turning the outdated Ridgewood High School Library into a high-tech, 21st century space used for research, study and group collaboration. They're now kicking off an ambitious fundraising campaign to quickly begin construction on what is estimated to be an $850,000 project.
Though many sections of the high school have been modernized and improved thanks to a recent $48 million referendum, little has changed at the high school library in about 50 years. Roughly 1,700 students use the library each day. Unfortunately, according to proponents of the "RHS Learning Commons" plan, the existing library is geared toward a bygone education era based on quiet study and limited interaction.
The current library simply isn't equipped for a world of iPads, cloud computing, social media, digital classrooms and collaborative work.
"The space needs to be brought into today's world," said Lori Weil, the RHS HSA president and a leading member of the non-profit group RHS Learning Commons initiative. "The way kids interact today is very different and the space should reflect those changes."
Originally envisioned by former high school principal Jack Lorenz, the project is ambitious.
Planned is a demolition of the current space, which would expand the rear of the library into an existing server room and a portion of a classroom. The expansion would create three conference rooms for group meetings, doubling seating capacity to just over 200 seats. It would become a true multi-space facility, HSA members say.
Shelving, furniture and fixtures would be replaced with new student conference rooms, overstuffed armchairs, more than 25 groupings of tables and chairs.
The design, created by the district's in-house architect LAN Associates, promises a bevy of outlets and charging stations for the newest tech trend for students – bring your own device (BYOD). In addition to new TVs, a college-style student cafe with an extended counter is planned as well. The books – remember those? – would mostly line the exterior of the new library.
The construction should cost $600,000, which includes demolition, carpentry, HVAC, plumbing, electrical work and a new circulation desk. Furnishing and non-construction items will add another $250,000.
If enough fundraising materializes by winter, construction could begin as soon as June of 2013 and be completed for the start of the 2013-2014 school year.
The major challenge moving forward will be finding a slew of donors willing to spare some change. The project has already received a $100,000 grant from the Ridgewood Education Foundation to pad the $75,000 raised from the spring Phone-a-thon.
It's not as daunting a fundraising challenge as it may sound, Weil said. There's legitimate excitement in the community.
"As we're talking about the project, there's no one that's not supportive," she told Patch. "People have really embraced it. We're getting a tremendous amount of support from the community. And we're hoping a lot of the support comes from the elementary and middle school parents."
On its website, the HSA beats the drum of the community-wide impact.
"The RHS Learning Commons is a project that will benefit all Ridgewood students!" the group wrote on its website. "That’s why parents of elementary school and middle school students are excited about this project, too! After all, our six elementary schools and both our middle schools feed students into Ridgewood High School. The Learning Commons will create a modern, collaborative and high-tech learning environment that will benefit Ridgewood students for generations!"
HSA organizers of the proposed project recently made a request to the school board to see if any public funds might be available to cover costs. A hard number should be coming back in a month, Weil said. There remains a possibility some of the expensive construction – like HVAC – could come out of leftover referendum money.
For now, the fundraising efforts largely focus on enticing big foundations and donors to be immortalized with naming rights. Alumni groups and corporations will also be approached.
For $500,000, the naming rights to "The Learning Commons" can be yours. The naming rights for the student lounge will cost a cool $100,000; the conference room is $50,000; the student cafe is $25,000; and your name can be on the donor recognition wall for anywhere between $1,000 and $10,000.
The Learning Commons hopes to get to 50 percent of its fundraising goal by Nov. 29, its anticipated kick-off event held at The Venetian in Garfield. The highlight of the event – which pledges to bring together parents from all nine of Ridgewood's schools – is a live auction, a la last year's Stetson Ball. There will be dinner and dancing as well.
Interested in getting involved? You can donate to the project at its website.
Checks can be made out to:
RHS Learning Commons
c/o Jaime Frederick
450 Overbrook Road
Ridgewood, NJ 07450
Have a question or news tip? Contact editor James Kleimann at James.Kleimann@patch.com, or find us on Facebook and Twitter. For news straight to your inbox every morning, sign up for our daily newsletter.