Oregon Episcopal School’s new Athletic Center is a win for students, community

Brand Story – $17 million facility is game-changing model of planning, collaboration.

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It’s game on at Oregon Episcopal School — and the excitement is palpable!

The school’s recently remodeled and expanded Athletic Center hosted its first competitions in late August, and is already a community cornerstone of the 59-acre campus. At 41,905 square feet, the $17 million facility can hold 1,200 people — the entire student body and employees — all at once.

The school had outgrown its original 1964 facility, and a 2012 master plan advised renovation or replacement.

Work was set to begin in March 2020 just when the Covid pandemic took hold. There was a six-week delay on the OES project, and then the board made a decision to continue construction.

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Inclusive sports
OES has a no-cut sports policy to encourage student participation in physical activity, no matter their skill level. There were about a dozen teams in the 1960s; today, there are 77 different teams for students in grades kindergarten through 12.

“We want every student engaged in all aspects of their learning, including the physical,” said OES Head of School Mo Copeland. “Our no-cut athletics policy means every student who wants to participate will have the opportunity to be on a team.”

Having a guaranteed spot on a team boosts leadership opportunities, said OES Athletic Director Dennis Sullivan. “Every kid gets to explore their athletic potential, but more importantly, they can figure out and define their leadership voice,” Sullivan said. “No-cut sports allows athletes to take the risk of being a sports leader, which translates to the classroom, and future success.”

9V6A6534OES varsity basketball players had a sneak preview of the new Athletic Center in late June (before Washington County implemented an outdoor mask mandate).

The Athletic Center meshes well with the inquiry-based learning that is the bedrock of an OES education.

“Inquiry means you are asking questions and actively engaged in thinking about what you’re learning and doing, which athletics does for students,” Copeland said. “It opens up new worlds and new doors in the way students think about themselves and the world.”

Community support
Envisioning the center as a space to elevate student-athletes and connect the community was appealing.

“There’s already so much interaction,” said Sullivan, who also is interim director of community. “Athletics is that interaction between students, the school, and that amazing community sense. The space serves as a study hall, a place for drama students to block scenes, or where parents can pick up kids and see one another.”

Longtime parents and volunteers Don and Alicia Morissette led the Athletic Center fundraising effort and there were many generous donations from OES families and alumni. The Morissettes have four sons who attended OES from pre-kindergarten through grade 12 and it was important for them to give back. The new court, with full-size basketball and volleyball courts (and two basketball and volleyball practice courts when the bleachers are retracted) is named Morissette Court.

The renovated original space is named Kris Van Hatcher ’70 Court, after the first OES student to graduate with 12 varsity letters. After graduation, Van Hatcher was a longtime OES athletic director and coach, and he instituted the no-cut sports policy.

Student input
Student feedback was critical to planning, and athletes’ input helped crystallize the athletic center’s design. Since most OES students are multi-sport athletes, the space was created for all sports usage. Traditional locker rooms were replaced by team rooms for changing, classrooms, or small group work.

“One of the big accomplishments is creating more social kinds of spaces in the building,” said Director of Facilities Jon von Behren. “Before, the gym was just kind of a box with a couple of hoops, locker rooms, and a few offices. Now, students can work together, or collaboratively.”

Jon von BehrenJon von Behren, OES’s longtime director of facilities, managed the $17 million construction project.

A sustainable footprint
The Athletic Center is a model of sustainability and modern design. Meeting Architecture 2030 Challenge criteria — goals that include reducing fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, along with advancing carbon-neutral buildings and cities — the new facility is 82 percent more energy efficient than other school gyms in the region.

Features include touchless plumbing in single-user bathrooms to ensure privacy, some with showers, others for wheelchair access; low-energy HVAC that uses a less expensive, natural ventilation system; and 103 new windows that take advantage of natural light and woodland vistas.

Engineers modeled the building to cope with 95-degree temperatures, but von Behren asked them to push that limit. “I wanted to know what would happen when there are five 100-degree days in a row,” he said.

Plans were revised with von Behren’s nudge and the Athletic Center was comfortable even during 2021’s big heat waves — a plus since the facility was used for summer camps.

Ambitions and aspirations
Current and future Aardvarks (the burrowing mammal is the school’s mascot) serve as community ambassadors, using their power for good, thanks to the confidence gained as leaders in school and athletics.

With the new Athletic Center, OES has taken an important step forward laying the foundation of the school as a place not only for student support and expanded learning opportunities, but collaborative leadership and integrated community engagement.

“This building is truly a game changer for our students and campus and community,” Copeland said. “We are so grateful to our students, families, employees and community for helping to make this spectacular space a reality.”


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