When Pomfret’s newest building, VISTA, opens in the fall of 2024, it will give Pomfret a whole new outlook on science education.
The name VISTA is easy to say, descriptive of the location, and a useful acronym all in one,” said Science Department Head Josh Lake. “The gorgeous sunsets to the west are an iconic Pomfret sight, and the observation platform built off the Hamilton Hub will offer a wide, panoramic view. It’s a perfect match for the new building’s place in the campus skyline.”
The name VISTA, which stands for Venue for Innovation, Science, Technology, and Academics, was suggested by the Science Building Naming Advisory Committee. Made up of Pomfret faculty and staff, the Committee met this past spring. They proposed a number of recommendations to the school community, and VISTA was ranked the highest in a school-wide poll. Head of School Tim Richards approved the selection at the beginning of the academic year.
VISTA was recommended for its dual purpose — as an acronym for the descriptor of the space where the community will gather, and as a play on words for what lies beyond the beautiful facility.
The new building will follow the sloping gradient of the hill, sitting on roughly the same footprint as its predecessor. Shifted slightly to the south, VISTA offers more expansive views of Pomfret’s sports fields and the valley beyond. With the setting sun as a backdrop, towering walls of glass are juxtaposed against vertical slats of multi-tonal metal siding, exuding warm tones of red and brown.
VISTA also evokes a forward-looking sense of the world. In comments he delivered during Reunion Weekend, Lake described the former science building as “a magnet, repelling all but the most determined to use it. With the new building, we have the chance to flip that magnet, convert it into an electromagnet, turn up the power, and attract a whole new generation of STEM-minded students!”
Lake drew a comparison between the building and some of the equipment it will house once it is open. He pointed out that VISTA will act as a microscope, allowing for our deepest and most focused scientific studies yet. It will be a spectroscope, a place where our scholars sample across the spectrum of scientific fields. It can be a telescope for our most passionate students to look far into their futures. It will be an expansive whiteboard on which students will record their ideas, hypotheses, graphs, and conclusions for all to see. It will also be a modern 3D Printer, a generative space where student designs will be built up and made real. And it will be a humble lab bench, an open surface for equipment, notebooks, computers, and measurement tools, where so many students in the coming generations will have their first key spark to become scientists.
Faculty and students are eager to begin teaching and learning in VISTA. Despite two large-scale remodels, the former science center — Ambrose Monell III Science Building — no longer fit the needs of the Pomfret community. With more than thirty unique offerings, many students elect to enroll in more than one science class each academic year, making science the most subscribed subject at Pomfret. With space in high demand, some classes, including physics and engineering, were forced to relocate to the basement of the Centennial Academic & Arts Center. When the makerspace was created in 2018, it also found a temporary home there.
WITH THE PLAN OF OPENING in the fall of 2024, Shawmut Design and Construction is making significant headway in the building of VISTA. Demolition of the former academic facility began in early March, and construction began later that month. By May, the foundation was being poured.
Over summer break, the steel structure was completed. A traditional topping out ceremony was held to celebrate the construction milestone. Those in attendance watched as a giant crane lifted the final external steel beam into place. The white beam, embellished with the Pomfret logo, proudly featured a Pomfret flag as well as the traditional small evergreen tree and an American flag.
When the students and faculty returned to the Hilltop this fall, they were invited to sign a second ceremonial beam, which will be installed inside the building. They were excited to literally leave their mark on VISTA.
VISTA WILL BE DOUBLE THE SIZE of Monell. The $22 million, three-story, 22,000-square-foot facility will house classrooms, state-of-the-art labs, and community gathering spaces. It is designed so that every square inch of the building will be used efficiently. On the uppermost level of the building, state-of-the-art lab spaces are paired with the roof mechanicals necessary to support them. At the ground level, a door in the environmental science classroom provides students direct access to the outdoors. Steel reinforced beams allow physics students to measure the trajectory of heavy objects as they swing. Oversized hallways called “commons” are extensions of the classrooms themselves. Everywhere, glass walls create an atmosphere of openness and transparency.
Just to the north, a grassy hill has been left open for students to gather and relax. Across the landscape, a large door connects the indoor Makerspace to the outdoor Makeryard, giving student-engineers ample room to assemble their creations and store oversized materials.
The centerpiece of VISTA is an airy space called the Hamilton Hub. Windows stretching two stories bathe the space in natural light. The floors are polished cement, and the walls are accented with natural wood. The funds for the construction of the Hub were generously donated by Gray P. R. Hamilton ’11 and Miles N. P. Hamilton ’13 and The Hamilton Family Charitable Trust. The open design of VISTA is the brainchild of the Boston-based, award-winning, minority-owned firm Annum Architects. The design and construction of VISTA were made possible through the generous financial commitment of Amplify campaign donors.
This first appeared in the Fall 2023 issue of Pomfret Magazine.