Nestled in nature at the base of Indian Mountain, our new Outdoor Working Lab—OWL for short—is beginning to take shape. The environmentally-focused outdoor research classroom is a gift from a generous donor and will provide access to our natural setting, enhance student learning opportunities—particularly related to our strategic priority of teaching for relevance and purpose—and further strengthen our sense of community. 

The approximately 1500-square-foot structure will be open to students, faculty, and staff on both campuses this October. With clear views of our ponds and surrounded by flora and fauna, opportunities to study natural sciences will abound. But this net-zero building is exciting to the IMS community because its intended purposes go well beyond scientific inquiry and study.

More than a Building

The desire to create a dynamic space for all ages and disciplines was front of mind when brainstorming the possibilities for this new building. The center itself will include classrooms designed to optimize any intended learning objective. For example, cozy nooks are being incorporated at both ends of the building where reading a book for English class will become a transcendental experience. Art students can find inspiration while painting a landscape. A wet lab will enable students to test and analyze biological matter. And, with features like a sitting deck, breathtaking views, and a fire pit, the building will serve as an ideal gathering space for the community and boarding students. Year-round, students will learn, be inspired, practice mindfulness, explore, and grow.

What is a Net-Zero Design?

The total amount of energy used by a net-zero building on an annual basis is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site. A new solar array, also donated generously by a group of alumni, will not only power this building with renewable energy, but also enable students to become well-versed in research and data collection. 

Access to the Mountain 

Our 600-acre campus is a hallmark of the IMS experience, and Head of School Jody Reilly Soja is on a mission to reorient campus toward the mountain. “We want more people to travel down the path to our mountain. It provides unique opportunities for experiential learning, outdoor play, and personal growth,” Ms. Soja shares. As a way to enhance our curriculum and provide access to our natural setting, and thanks to a generous donor, the Outdoor Working Lab (OWL) will do just that. 

The design of the building was very intentional. Ms. Soja says that the use of natural wood and tall, sustainable glass windows are meant to make a visitor feel like they’re outdoors. The connection between nature and the brain is also a core component of this initiative. Ms. Soja frequently cites studies that indicate a strong connection between the outdoors and brain performance. She shares, “In nature, students make predictions, wonder about what they see, and take time for reflection. All of this inquiry and processing provides opportunities for cognitive growth and development.” 

Of the location and multi-disciplinary space, Ms. Soja reflects, “the quietness down there and the ability to look out to very specific views will be transformative. No matter the discipline, I think the change of aesthetics and location is going to accentuate an academic—or non-academic—experience.”