Community Gathers for Groundbreaking of the Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Center for Innovation and Active Citizenship


The community welcomed Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch ’72 to campus on June 18, 2022, for the official groundbreaking of the transformational building that will bear their names: the Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Center for Innovation and Active Citizenship. Construction on the site of the 24,000-square-foot academic building, scheduled to open in fall 2023, has already begun, as the former Science Building, which opened in 1968, is being removed to make way for the new center. 

Head of School Peter Becker welcomed guests, who gathered on the Quad facing the construction site, and expressed his gratitude for the generous donors who have helped to make the new building possible, and all who have contributed to the project in many ways. 

“This transformational project really embodies the values and vision of Mr. and Mrs. Gunn. They knew that in some ways, all you need as humans is a tent to be able to live and thrive,” Becker said, referring to Mr. Gunn’s recognition as the founder of recreational camping in America. “But they also had a home, right over there, where Gunn dorm exists today. It was given to them by Abigail’s father, and it was the original place where they brought students together to learn in every respect. They were the hope-filled faculty who created a vibrant, loving, teaching and learning ecosystem, one that attended to the mind, body, spirit, and emotional lives of students in their care, committed to the students’ moral character development, so that those students would go on to become active citizens. It was right here. In many ways. The Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Center for Innovation and Active Citizenship is the 21st century iteration, the manifestation of Mr. and Mrs. Gunn’s original home school.”

The groundbreaking was a moment to celebrate two heroic couples, Becker said, identifying Frederick and Abigail Gunn as the first, and Lizzie and Jon Tisch as the second. “Jon, you spoke up at a meeting a couple of years ago now, to say what everyone knew but was afraid to say out loud — both that this building had reached the end of its life, and that further investment in it is was not wise — and that the school had an opportunity to transform the center of campus right on our beloved Quad as we had just recently done with TPACC and the Glade. Then both of you leaned into the project itself, both in terms of design and, most obviously, in terms of your incredible and transformative philanthropy and generosity. On behalf of literally the generations of students and teachers who will benefit from this incredible new building, thank you,” Becker said.

Stepping to the podium, Jon Tisch thanked his wife, Lizzie, “for being my partner in everything that is important in my life, and now for putting your name on a building next to mine that will transform this incredible institution, which has had such a wonderful, warm history over the last 172 years, and will allow The Frederick Gunn School to welcome young  women and men for decades to come, to learn about what’s important in life … and go into a world and make a difference.”

Tisch said it is his hope that people will begin to refer to the new building as “The Lizzie,” adopting the affectionate nickname in honor of his wife, similar to the way the Thomas S. Perakos Arts and Community Center has quickly come to be known as TPACC. “I have this vision starting in about 15 months, in September 2023, when the students come to campus and they see this incredible structure for the first time, and they start going to classes, and they say to each other, ‘I’m going to meet you at the front door of The Lizzie,’” he said. 

In response, Becker confirmed that students and faculty are already using the name, and with Lizzie Tisch’s permission, when the building opens, the school will christen it, “The Lizzie.”

“Works for me,” Lizzie Tisch replied, joking, “I told him it was too long of a name.”

Jon Tisch reflected that being back on campus for the afternoon brought back incredible memories for him. “My brother, Steve Tisch ’67, started here in the fall of 1963. In those days it was unusual for a family from New York City to commit to the then-Gunnery school. I think of then-Head of School Ogden D. Miller H’69 P ’50 ’54 ’55 and, more personally for us — for my brother and myself, and my parents, Joan Tisch P’67 ’72 and Bob Tisch P’67 ’72 — Norman Lemcke P’84, who was the Dean at the time. I would come as a very young man and stay here with my brother, and stay at the Lemcke’s house. I would babysit their kids on numerous weekends, and that was the foundation that allowed me to think about what I would do when it came time for high school,” Tisch said. “For four years, I truly loved The Gunnery.” 

Today the school is a different place, with roots that are historic, and a new name that accurately reflects Frederick Gunn’s history, beliefs, and humanity. When Mr. Gunn started the school in 1850, he understood what it meant to educate the whole person, and that it was important for students to embrace arts and culture, nature and the outdoors, Tisch said. “I am so proud and beaming that I can sit here and think of my parents, Joan and Bob, who started this journey many, many years ago for our family, and how proud they would be today, reflecting on the almost six decades that our family has been associated with this school, and thinking about again, where were are today.”

“It is so exciting to see this thing coming down,” Tisch said, referring to the Science Building behind him. “Peter’s effort on behalf of this community has been outstanding, and once again the way he has worked with his colleagues, with the members of the administration, with the business side, with such talented individuals as Chief Development Officer Sean Brown P’22 and his team on the development side — that is what is making this school special. And Lizzie and I are just so excited to be part of the next step in the history, in the dynamic history of The Frederick Gunn School.”

Tisch accepted a sledgehammer from Brown, and wielded it to decisively knock down the door of the Science Building with one swing. Lizzie and Jon Tisch, Becker and Board Chair Patrick Dorton ’86 then took turns wielding the ceremonial shovel to dig into the dirt, breaking ground.

A project like this is only possible because a lot of people contribute in a lot of different ways, Becker said, thanking a group of “patron-donor-investors who stepped forward to invest in this project in its very earliest stages, before we knew what we were going to do, before we had beautiful drawings. Trustee Emerita Joan Noto P’97 and Trustee Gretchen Farmer P’05, you all stepped up first and gave us the courage to start thinking about what we might be able to do. Nick Molner ’72, Trustee and Board Secretary Beth Glynn, Trustee Emeritus Steve Bent ’59, Josh Feil ’98, Trustee Dick Tager ’56, former Trustee and past Finance Committee Chair Bill Tolley P’08 ’14, and Trustee Adam Gerry P’21 are all major donors to this project.” All invested early in the project and demonstrated that the new building had the full support of the Gunn community.

Becker thanked the Board, especially Dorton, Vice Chair Wanji Walcott P’19, Vice Chair Neil Townsend P’18 ’20, Trustee Jon Linen ’62, Board Treasurer and Finance Committee Chair Ashleigh Fernandez, and Trustee and Investment Committee Chair Bill Bardel, “and every member of the Board, for embracing and championing and investing in the relaunch of The Frederick Gunn School and all that means. Without your support, your encouragement, your counsel, and your willingness to go for it, none of this would be possible.”

At the opening of the ceremony, Becker paused to reflect for a moment on the Science Center and its place in the school’s history. “As much as this building got tired by the end of its life, it represents six decades of teaching and learning. I’ve heard from alumni … stories of falling in love with math and science because of the teaching that happened inside the building. Whether or not they loved the building, the memories about what happened in the building are very real. Whether that was from Ed Small and Alisa Croft,  or Michael Eanes H’90 P’90 GP’20 ’23 ’25, Steven Bailey P’09, Morgen Fisher ’03 – the generations of teachers who have made learning come alive in that building. That is significant.”

Becker acknowledged the construction team at O&G, Colliers, and the team at Sasaki, including Principal Architect Vinicius Gorgati and Senior Associate Architectural Designer Marta Guerra-Pastrián, along with the teachers and students who will use the new building and provided their input, Lizzie and Jon Tisch, for their vision, attention to detail, and generosity, and the donors who stepped up early in the process. Through their combined efforts, the new center will be a building that respects the past and looks forward to the future, Becker said. It will have a symbiotic relationship with the campus and with nature, relying on geothermal wells for heating and cooling, and a lot of natural light, with a beautiful terrace and a firepit to invite people outside in all seasons. It will nestle between the rocks and trees, preserving the beautiful rock outcroppings that have been a signature feature of the campus since the beginning.

Emily Gum, Assistant Head of School for Teaching and Learning, spoke about the programs and classes the building will house, and their significance. “The Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Center for Innovation and Active Citizenship exemplifies all that we are hoping to embody and teach at The Frederick Gunn School. As we stand shoulder to shoulder with our students and look out towards the coming decades of the 21st century, it is important that we not only pursue understanding and skills across math, science, and technology, but that we do so while we ask why — why are we pursuing knowledge? And how are we going to use that knowledge to serve the Common Good as entrepreneurial citizens?”

“At Frederick Gunn, we are equipping future citizens to understand the Common Good as the things all of us as humans require to thrive. That is, what is true, sustainable, good, just, prosperous, and beautiful,” Gum said, noting this is something Frederick and Abigail Gunn understood intuitively.

“The classes taught in this building will together make each element of the Common Good tangible for our students,” Gum said, offering examples of how students will learn about truth, sustainability, goodness, justice, prosperity and beauty in the new center, through classes in math and science, and programs in engineering, entrepreneurship and citizenship.

The design of the building will draw students into incredible community spaces to study together, hang out together, and encounter all of the incredible work that the faculty and students are doing together. “Through all of these courses and programs, it is our aim to give our students an instinct for how excellence and service to the Common Good can mutually support one another. What an incredible gift you all are giving to our students and our faculty,” Gum said. “As a faculty, we will do everything we can to live up to the confidence this building demonstrates in our work, the students, and the generations to come.” 

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