Darlington School has announced plans to move grades PK-4 to the main campus at the end of the current school year and sell its property on Shorter Avenue to Shorter University. The trustees of both institutions approved the agreement unanimously this afternoon.
“This is a tremendous win for Darlington,” said Headmaster Tom Whitworth. “The fact is, we will be able to deliver a better product with all of our students and teachers here on one campus. As always, safety is our primary concern, and there is no doubt that securing one campus is easier and more efficient than securing two. This is a huge opportunity for us to truly become one school.”
With the move, Darlington PK-8 Director James Hutchins will no longer have to split his time between two campuses, but can instead maximize his time building a true PK-8 model that lends itself to better communication, curriculum continuity, the vertical alignment of teaching and learning, in addition to enhancing the connections between students and teachers PK-12.
“This is really exciting,” Dr. Hutchins said. “The opportunities to capitalize on the synergies between teachers and students at all levels are endless. The Lower School already does a great job of collaborating between grade levels and subjects, but being on the same campus with the rest of our student body – including students from 42 countries and 22 states – will allow us to provide an abundance of unique learning experiences for all.”
Grades 3 and 4 will move into Thatcher Hall with grades 5-8, while the Early Learning Academy and grades 1 and 2 will be temporarily housed in modular classrooms. All grades will share Thatcher Hall’s state-of-the-art facilities, including the Johnson Assembly Hall, the Ledbetter Commons, the Joanne G. Yancey Library, the Courtyard, Morgan Pavilion and Charlie Davidson Field. Plans are to build a permanent structure once the Lower School Transition Committee, chaired by Associate Headmaster James Milford, has determined the ideal size and scope of the facility.
“We have already settled on a preliminary site, located behind the archway in Thatcher Hall’s Courtyard at the foot of the mountain,” said Beth Pollard, Darlington chief financial officer. “James and the committee will spend the next 12 to 18 months talking with students, teachers and parents in order to identify our needs just as we did before Thatcher Hall was constructed.”
Jere Drummond (’57), chairman of Darlington’s Board of Trustees, added that the school’s primary reason for engaging Shorter specifically was the desire to protect the Lower School site and, particularly, the Thornwood Building, which was built by Shorter University founder Col. Alfred Shorter in the late 1840s. The home of Thornwood School from 1958 to 1973 – the all-girls prep school that merged with Darlington to create the co-educational institution we are today – the Thornwood Building currently serves as administrative offices and classroom space. As part of the agreement, Shorter will make every effort to have Thornwood added to the National Register of Historic Places within the next 18 months.
“While moving the lower grades to the main campus has been part of Darlington’s Campus Master Plan for nearly a decade, it was very important to us to find a buyer that would appreciate the historic value of Thornwood,” Drummond said. “Thornwood alumnae care very deeply for their alma mater and have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars toward the restoration of the property, the naming of a female residence hall on the main campus in honor of Thornwood, and the endowment of the Thornwood Scholarship. And while Thornwood will always be part of Darlington, it was important to us to ensure that the place these women so fondly remember is protected. To this end, Shorter is the ideal partner because it also has a stake in Thornwood’s history.”
Shorter University President Don Dowless sees this partnership as a win for Shorter as well. “We are excited about adding Col. and Mrs. Shorter’s home and the adjacent property to our campus,” he said. “In the 1870s, the Shorters’ support was so crucial to the success of the college that the institution was renamed in their honor. We are proud that their legacy will live on in a new, tangible way and that our students, faculty and staff will benefit from it.”
Shorter expanded its Rome campus in 2009, locating its School of Nursing in the Riverbend Center and its Robert H. Ledbetter College of Business in the Midtown Crossing Shopping Center.
“The addition of the Thornwood property, which is adjacent to our main campus, will provide additional academic and athletic space that will enhance our campus community,” Dr. Dowless said. “This addition also increases our footprint along Shorter Avenue and gives us even more of a presence within the Rome Community.”