Like many of the schools and businesses in the Wood River Valley, Community School in Sun Valley faces an ongoing demographic challenge: how to grow in an economy dominated by resort activities and a commensurate aging population.
One solution the school has pursued has been to go out into the broader population to bring students here. Hence, in 2011, Community School partnered with the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation (SVSEF) to form the Sun Valley Ski Academy—a boarding school program for skiers and snowboarders who want to take advantage of the world-class snow sports training of the SVSEF, as well as the academic opportunities at Community School. The program has succeeded famously, drawing students from all over the world—currently Brazil, Canada, China, Italy, Japan, Spain—and is quickly outgrowing its residential facility in Warm Springs, according to Becca Hemingway, director of development for the school.
To expand the residential program, the school is building a new Ketchum Campus in what was formerly the Smith Sport Optics building in the Industrial Center of Ketchum. It is designed to be what Ben Pettit, head of school, described as a “private school, public purpose … We want this to be an active space; we want it to be a healthy space, not just for the kids at Community School, but for kids in the Wood River Valley, in general.”
To that end, the school, working with Elias Construction in Ketchum and the architecture firm Mithun in Seattle, is remodeling the approximately 25,000-square-foot Smith building to incorporate public use downstairs—state-of-the-art training facility, commercial kitchen and dining area to seat 65, study, meeting and lounging spaces—and secure student residential areas upstairs to accommodate 40 people, including two residential advisors. The school plans to move students in during January 2017.
Pettit’s vision for the campus is one of a fully integrated “community hub.” For instance, a group of Nordic skiers might take a Mountain Rides bus from the school to the Ketchum Campus for a workout in the athletic training center. The gym will comprise four targeted functionalities—cardiovascular, strength, Pilates/yoga, and biometrics—and will be modeled on the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association’s (USSA) facility in Park City, Utah. Pettit is also working to have the center become a branded USSA satellite training center, which would include staffing by a USSA, sport-specific trainer and would be available to national athletes when they come to the area for competitions (such as the U.S. Alpine Championships in 2018).
After working out, student-athletes will be able to shower in the locker rooms downstairs, then hang out together in a student lounge area with couches, movie screen, pool table and Foosball. For $7, they can eat dinner in the dining hall where locally sourced, sustainably produced meals will be prepared by resident chef Tracey Caraluzzi. Students can then move to the study hall, which will be equipped with wireless Internet, interactive white boards and study areas, where they will receive targeted academic support from staff. Pettit also mentioned that the study areas will be available to outside groups, such as The Drug Coalition or The Advocates, to use as a meeting space.
The long-term plan is to improve the outdoor grounds with an area of green space, picnic tables, barbecue area, volleyball court, and pump track. That project, however, will be fund-raising dependent.
Residents will live upstairs in “pods” of six students, two to a room, with an additional common area and two bathrooms and showers. Faculty residential advisors will live on the same floor with the kids, while the directors of residential life, David and Nancy Parsons Brown, will have a small apartment on the first floor.
“Community School, the Wood River Valley, and the Ski Ed Foundation have natural advantages,” Pettit said. “We have a very good school, but then there is the access to Baldy, the Pioneers, Sawtooths, White Clouds … the wilderness areas. And you have 200 kilometers of groomed trails, Dollar Mountain and the Air Barn. So, access to the ski component … access to the outdoors and the outdoor program … is what we’re recruiting kids around. The third real advantage of the Wood River Valley is access to the cultural piece … the galleries, the nexStage, The Spot, Company of Fools. The creative arts are an emerging piece of what we’ll recruit around.
“We want the kid who wants to take advantage of the whole area—academically driven, athletically driven and who’s going to get after it in the outdoors.”
Ultimately, Pettit sees the campus as an economic boost for the Valley at large. He noted that the school has had 56 boarders to date whose families have subsequently purchased over $20 million worth of homes in the Valley. In fact, this phenomenon has become a minor retention issue for the residential program because after a year or two, whole families of the boarding students decide to move here. In addition to the boarder families, Pettit said 58 families have moved here in the last five years to be near the school. Thirty of those 58 families were looking at the residential program first, then made the decision to move their whole families instead.
“So, it’s a big driver for the school and our sustainability,” Pettit said. “We believe it’s a big driver for the Wood River Valley as a whole, and it builds on the natural legacy of skiing and the outdoors and everything people love about living here.”