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Northwood opens Innovation Hub

Northwood School student Quy-An “Q” Nguyenle, 18, of Vietnam, works on a robot at the Innovation Hub’s new robotics lab on Monday, Feb. 24. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

LAKE PLACID — After years of planning and nearly 12 months of construction, the Innovation Hub hosted its first batch of Northwood School students Tuesday.

The school’s students and faculty held an open house event, unveiling the space for the first time to the broader community, on Monday night.

With a new Main Street presence, the private school’s administration is attempting to expand its curriculum to meet modern students’ needs, while building a bridge between its student population and residents of the Tri-Lakes region.

“I have an unconventional concept of how a private school should function in a community,” said Northwood School Head of School Michael Maher. Typically, he said, a private school keeps its campus somewhat isolated.

“I don’t think that ultimately serves a school well, and I know that doesn’t serve a community well,” Maher said. “To place (the Innovation Hub) quite literally in the center of the village makes it very clear that we want to be a part of the community and contribute in important ways to the life of the community and particularly, to the life of kids.”

Northwood School Associate Head of School Tom Broderick speaks before an audience at an open house event celebrating the unveiling of the school’s new Main Street Innovation Hub on Monday, Feb. 24. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

The Innovation Hub boasts a small stage, two kitchens, multiple meeting spaces, a digital design lab, rocket lab and robotics lab, and a makerspace with 3D printers.

The goal is to eventually collaborate with public school districts throughout the region, as well as local colleges, business leaders and trade professionals, according to Associate Head of School Tom Broderick.

“What we want to be is a center of learning that radiates and accelerates all around us,” he said.

Planning for public guest lectures, poetry slams, open mic and trivia nights will kick off this June. Some events will be free, others accessed through a membership. It’s unclear how much that membership will cost, though Broderick said it would likely be equivalent to the cost of a latte every week.

Altogether, including the purchase of the building and early design phases, the project cost $4.5 million, according to Broderick. The school paid for it with support from its alumni, students’ families and friends.

Pictured here Monday, Feb. 24 on the upper level of the Innovation Hub are, left to right, Northwood School senior Luke French, 18, of Kansas City; Marcy Fagan, director of the LEAP Program; sophomore Matthew Paul, 16, of Lake Placid; and post-grad student Patrick Doyle, 18, of Chicago. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

Plans for programs

The Innovation Hub is part of an ongoing effort to adapt Northwood School’s curriculum as needs change, according to Maher.

“Northwood has always had an outstanding, and yet traditional, college prep curriculum that gives kids the opportunity to take a course of study that’s attractive to the nation’s colleges,” he said. “But the interest of those colleges and the interest of employers has changed over time. The curriculum needed to be augmented to include technical and creative disciplines that would teach skills the colleges and, frankly, the employers want today.”

Northwood School physics teacher Matt Roy poses inside the new rocket lab at the Innovation Hub on Monday, Feb. 24. (Enterprise photo — Elizabeth Izzo)

The school’s robotics, innovation and design, entrepreneurial studies and “LEAP” (learn, engage, apply, perform) programs have expanded into the Main Street building.

Marcy Fagan, director of Northwood’s LEAP program, said she’s looking forward to having more space. The LEAP program offers students 16 different course options — some involving international travel, others hosted locally. The school’s teachers design each course based on their individual expertise.

“This year at the Hub we’ll teach ‘Build a Guitar or Ukulele’ as well as ‘Woodworking 101,'” she said.

The first year a woodworking class was offered, it was hosted in the school’s ski building, which didn’t have much room, according to Fagan. Then it was moved to a bus garage, which wasn’t heated.

“This will be a nice warm space, a clean space, a heated space for kids to complete their woodworking projects,” she said.

Jeff Martin, the school’s technology director, said the new space was needed. The school’s robotics programs have swelled from eight students to 48 students in the last five years, he said.

Behind the design

The planning and design phase of this building project took years, according to Broderick. There were plenty of roadblocks.

Maher first had the idea for the Innovation Hub in 2014, before he was hired as Ed Good’s successor.

Maher’s first official day at Northwood was in July 2015. The school attempted to buy the space shortly afterward, but by that October, the school’s purchase appeared to fall through, according to Broderick. By that December the sale was finalized, and Broderick was sent on a mission to scope out design ideas.

He traveled all across the country: to Boston, Cleveland, New York City, Middlebury, Vermont, and Portland, Maine. He visited Harvard University and even went to the West Coast at one point to check out the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy in Goleta, California, whose founder — a physics teacher — was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2010.

The first design of the Innovation Hub included a 25-foot glass atrium, Broderick said. That idea made it through six months of design and planning board approval, but met an end when engineers studied the structure and found it wouldn’t be feasible. The school decided to demolish the building instead, but that idea brought the projected cost from $2 million to $6 million, he said.

“The (school’s) board (of trustees) said, ‘We’ve got to rethink this,'” Broderick said. “Then our architect retired. So again, it was dead on the vine. We weren’t going to do anything. Then last January, Mike (Maher) said, ‘What if we bring it back and pare it down?'”

With a new, simpler design in place, the school started construction last March.

The design is what local real estate agent and former Northwood trustee Diane Scholl describes as “Adirondack industrial.” She helped design the space.

The Innovation Hub largely features an open floor plan with glass walls segmenting different classrooms, kitchens and meeting spaces. There are two outdoor porches, one on the street level and another on the second floor overlooking Mirror Lake.

“We incorporated Adirondack materials with more sleek, modern design in the main spaces,” Scholl said. “We tried to make a point of hearkening back, on the porches, to almost the (Adirondack) Great Camp era.”

The rear of the building, where the porches are located, still features some of the original stonework from when the structure was first built in 1915.

“It’s a nod to the past and the history,” Scholl said. “It’s nice to combine both, honor both.”

The building is best known locally as the longtime home of With Pipe and Book, which, true to its name, sold used books and smoking materials.