Groundbreaking for Earl Shapiro Hall set for Sept. 17

On the heels of students returning to class, the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools will celebrate a historic groundbreaking from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17, marking the official start of construction on the Earl Shapiro Hall.

Named for 1956 alumnus Earl Shapiro, the building is part of the Schools’ innovative new Early Childhood Campus at the 5800 block of South Stony Island Avenue. The facility will be the new home for Lab’s early childhood program, housing nursery school through second-grade classes.

The groundbreaking event, which is open to current families, alumni, faculty, staff, and friends, including members of the nearby community, will offer a variety of themed activities—sand castle sculpting, LEGO building, and cookie decorating. Kids also will be equipped with shovels to help “break ground” on the new facility.

Earl Shapiro Hall on the Early Childhood Campus is set to open in fall 2013 and will be a significant addition to the Laboratory Schools. Architects designed the spaces specifically for use by children in nursery through second grade. The state-of-the-art facility will provide nursery and kindergarten students direct outdoor access from classrooms; indoor spaces suited for a range of simultaneous activities; and thought-provoking settings that enhance the flexible interactions at the heart of the Schools’ education.

“We are extremely grateful for the wonderful generosity of the Shapiro family,” said Lab Schools Director David Magill. “Their gift has made possible an important first step in our plans to improve the facilities of the Laboratory Schools. For years to come, children will benefit from their support, and I thank them on behalf of the entire Lab Schools community.

"We are also grateful to 5th Ward Ald. Leslie Hairston, a Lab School alumna, who convened a very productive community process as we developed this facility and provided important leadership at every step," Magill said. "The alderman, other city officials and many partners in the community helped make this vision a reality."

The new building is a key component of the Laboratory Schools’ multi-year initiative and expansion that will transform the Schools’ campus, creating an optimal learning environment for all grades, and allowing for new programs while maintaining a diverse student body.

In 2008, members of the Shapiro family—Earl, his wife, Brenda, and their children Matthew, Benjamin, and Alexandra, all of whom attended Lab—made a $10 million gift to the Laboratory Schools, citing the unique combination of talented and diverse students, outstanding teachers and a focus on critical learning. Earl Shapiro died shortly after the gift in his honor was announced.

The new building will bring together nursery school classes, which are currently conducted in two houses on Woodlawn Avenue, with nursery school, kindergarten, and first and second grade classes, which currently share Blaine Hall with higher grade levels on the Laboratory Schools’ main campus.

Designed by Valerio Dewalt Train and FGM Architects as the architect-of-record, Earl Shapiro Hall has been planned to optimize the Reggio Emilia approach to learning, an educational model that shares some of the ideas of Lab’s founder, John Dewey. In that approach, the learning environment is meant to be another teacher, stimulating natural curiosity and providing room for independent action.

Classrooms in Earl Shapiro Hall will be large and flexible enough to allow children to move freely from structured academic work to art projects, to physical exercise, to group-oriented activities. Younger children will have direct access to outdoor play spaces from the classroom, allowing students to follow their natural curiosities freely and teachers to supervise different activities simultaneously.

As children develop, they will have access to library spaces, as well as indoor play spaces, recycling stations, and a variety of visual and tactile stimuli throughout.

The Early Childhood Campus is a key step in the expansion of the Laboratory Schools, where enrollment is projected to rise from 1,750 students (nursery through high school) to a projected 2,050 students. Renovation work at the School’s main campus has already begun.

The Schools’ expansion, long-discussed and much planned for by Lab faculty, administration, and board members with significant input from others, will allow Lab to maintain its diverse student body at a time of unprecedented demand both within the University community and among families from the neighborhood and across the city. “Careful planning is taking place to preserve our rich values and traditions as we grow in size and become one of the largest independent schools in the country,” said Magill.

American philosopher and educator John Dewey founded the Laboratory Schools in 1896 to test and demonstrate his educational theories. Since then, Lab has continued to be an integral part of the University of Chicago.