By Michael Jacobs

Marist School has seen its future and is presenting the first glimpses at how its Brookhaven campus fits into that vision.

The Catholic secondary school presented its preliminary campus master plan at a community meeting June 24 (held after the Brookhaven Reporter went to press), aiming to win the support of neighbors for the long-term overhaul of the physical plant before finalizing the plan or embarking on the process of permits and approvals from the DeKalb County government.

The plan takes the active portion of the 68-acre campus north of Nancy Creek for the first time but limits all buildings to the area south of the creek while expanding and enhancing that portion of the campus. The school plans to keep the student body around the current size of about 1,050.

“There are some tweaking and some adjustment that will need to happen when we actually go for the special land use permit that we’ll need as part of the zoning to deal with any projects, but this is certainly tight enough where we’ll give people a good, strong idea of what we’re doing,” said Bob Fisher, Marist’s communications director.

The school doesn’t have a fixed timeline for the projects, nor are the details firm enough to put a price on the master plan. But Fisher said it will be multiple millions of dollars.

The campus upgrade is perhaps the most visible piece of the long-range strategic plan Marist completed last year, Vision 2020, which aims over the next decade or so to turn Marist into a model for Catholic secondary education.

Vision 2020 identified seven areas of focus: the Marist identity; program excellence; the student body; the faculty, staff and administration; alumni; campus and facilities; and finance and endowment.

To prepare the campus master plan, addressing the sixth of those Vision 2020 areas, Marist hired the SLAM Collaborative architectural firm to study the school’s facilities and benchmark them against other top-flight college-prep day schools.

SLAM found that Marist was at or below the bottom of the desirable range of space per student in areas such as general classrooms, science classrooms and performing arts space, as well as administrative space. In phases to be built place as the money is available, Marist aims to address those issues.

The school’s plans include adding 21 classrooms for a total of 67, doubling the cafeteria capacity from 300 to 600 students, nearly doubling the office space from 2,200 to 4,200 square feet, building a larger gym connected to the aquatics center, adding more than 300 parking spaces for a total of 850, and creating a fine and performing arts center of 42,600 square feet, up from the current 16,600 square feet.

All of the buildings in the master plan will go in the current stretch of structures on the southern third of the 68-acre campus, in part by necessity: Nearly half the campus is classified as flood plain and thus is largely off-limits for construction.

The architecture will retain the redbrick style, and only one structure will rise higher than the current buildings: a campanile, or bell tower, connected to the Esmond Brady Memorial Chapel.

Fisher said one goal is to make that chapel the focal point of the campus, not just its spiritual center. The plan also calls for creating a central entrance lobby for the school between the chapel and the traffic circle just west of the Woodruff Auditorium.

The expanded art center will be built around the auditorium, whose capacity will grow from about 300 to 500 seats, and a glass-enclosed gallery space will serve as a dramatic entrance to the school’s arts programs.

As part of its Terra Project to make a greener, more sustainable campus, Marist aims to minimize the loss of trees and to follow the principles of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design construction, although Fisher said the school might save money by skipping formal LEED certification.

The construction will displace the tennis courts, which will move north of the creek, along with some kind of general-purpose practice field and the new parking spaces. The school acquired the land north of the creek in 2004 and 2007.

Fisher said the tennis courts and field on the north side will not be lighted, and the school has no plans to open an entrance to the school on that side of Nancy Creek. A car bridge and a couple of pedestrian bridges will provide access to that portion of the campus.

An unused, decaying building on the land will be razed, which Fisher said will beautify the site for neighbors.

“We value the positive, long-term relationships that we’ve had with all of our neighbors” since Marist moved to Brookhaven in 1962, Fisher said.

He said the initial response from neighbors has been positive, and the school is looking forward to the dialogue as it finalizes the plans and seeks zoning approval.