Students and Faculty Celebrate the Opening of The Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Center for Innovation and Active Citizenship

Head of School Emily Raudenbush Gum with students at the opening of The Lizzie

Students and faculty celebrated the opening of The Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Center for Innovation and Active Citizenship with a reception on January 4, which was also the first day of classes in the new building. The stunning, 24,000-square-foot academic center was made possible through a $25 million gift from Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch ’72, the largest philanthropic commitment in the 174-year history of the school. An opening celebration for alumni, families, friends, and supporters is planned for April 27, 2024. 

“The Lizzie,” as it is affectionately known, has had an immediate and transformative effect on the campus. Designed as an interdisciplinary hub of learning, it houses Gunn’s innovative science, math, engineering, technology, entrepreneurship, and citizenship curriculum in one location overlooking the school’s historic Quad.

“It’s pretty phenomenal what our architects were able to accomplish with this site location,” Head of School Emily Raudenbush Gum reflected, inviting faculty to toast The Lizzie at a reception on January 3. “This building gives us a stake in the ground around what kind of teaching and learning we want to do, but what the building does most is it allows us to do what we’re already doing to the best possible degree. We as a school already have the people and programs in place that can take advantage of this kind of facility. That’s what’s amazing for our students. That’s why families are choosing to be part of Gunn. Everything we need to get this place humming with our mission is already here.” 

In addition to creating best-in-class learning spaces for math and science, The Lizzie is designed to inspire collaboration among students engaged in the school’s Center for Citizenship and Just Democracy, IDEAS Lab, and a new Center for Entrepreneurship. Bringing these keystone programs together in close proximity creates dedicated learning environments where students can learn to be curious, solve problems, take risks, think independently, and develop strength of character. Custom murals on the first and second floors connect the work students are doing in the classrooms and labs to questions about active citizenship and innovation. Looking up from the first floor of the atrium that has already become a favorite gathering place for students, a quote from founder Frederick Gunn fills one wall: “Think boldly, fearlessly; never fear where unfettered thought will lead you.” These words connect the future of Gunn to its past.

“As our kids face all kinds of challenges — whether mental health, the pressures of social media, or what’s happening now with higher education, and artificial intelligence — when we can put them in a space like this with teachers who know them and who are going to model a life of fearless learning for them, that is what is going to help them have a life of joy and peace. I deeply believe that,” Gum told the faculty, “and I think getting the phrase ‘never fear’ up there on the wall in this age when there is so much that our kids are up against  — they feel it, but they are just as hopeful as teenagers have ever been  — my deep hope is that this is a building where they are filled with joy, and trust that they will have everything they need to face the challenges of the 21st century. I am deeply, deeply grateful to all of you for modeling that for them, day after day, as we open this building with them.”

The site location integrates the building with the inherent natural beauty of the campus, and has transformed the campus from every angle. The location at the center of campus relates not only to the Quad but to the flow from the Quad to the Koven-Jones Glade and the Thomas S. Perakos Arts and Community Center, completed in 2020. 

“We realized that building in this area would be a benefit to the entire community and would create a new campus core, so that The Lizzie is literally a beacon in the middle of campus,” said Chief Development Officer Sean Brown P’22 ’27. “It’s open and light and collaborative and transparent. Inside, you are able to see all the great work that’s going on. You’re able to see what happens in the Center for Entrepreneurship and our engineering program and our citizenship program, and of course, science and math in our classrooms and labs.”

While the new building is larger than the former Science Building, it is intentionally broken up into three pavilions, so that it reads more to the scale of the campus. The interior and exterior spaces reflect conversations that took place during the design process around community engagement and transparency combined with extending learning opportunities across the curriculum, and developing a heightened awareness of the beautiful landscape. 

“It’s elevating everyone’s game already,” said Bart McMann, who as Director of the Center for Citizenship and Just Democracy, now teaches in a glass-walled classroom overlooking the Quad, Tisch Schoolhouse, and Gunn. “Using a sports analogy, when you play in an arena, you either cower or you bring your best self to it, to give your best performance. As people are walking by, and you're teaching or you're learning, it doesn’t put a spotlight on it, but there’s a sense that we’re all in this together.” 

“The location is just so important,” said Tisch, who worked closely with the school and the architects at the Boston-based firm, Sasaki. “When you’re on the outside looking in, you will actually see the classrooms and the students learning. And then when you’re on the inside looking out, you’ve got a view on the campus that deserves to be embraced.”

“Lizzie and Jon were just phenomenal partners, not only to offer this to the campus but then to stay so engaged in the last year,” Gum said, acknowledging the teams from O&G Industries, Sasaki, and Colliers that built the building, and a core team on campus that provided oversight, including Brown, Associate Head of School Seth Low P’26, and Chief Financial Officer Chris Cowell. Gum credited Cowell with essentially “putting the building on his shoulders” to get the project across the finish line over the previous nine months.

“There were a lot of moving parts,” said Cowell, who managed details including the installation of a 10,000-square-foot geothermal well field beneath the Quad, and a super-efficient, highly insulated building envelope, designed to keep the building warm in winter and cool in warmer months. These systems, along with solar panels that will be installed on the roof, and the installation of benches made from trees reclaimed during the construction of TPACC, represent the school’s commitment to sustainability. Other complexities involved in Cowell’s management of the project included maintaining as much of the existing natural landscape around The Lizzie as possible, while constructing a building in the middle of a busy campus, which required the rerouting of traffic for more than a year. Cowell also coordinated dozens of contractors, selected from some 295 who participated in a competitive bidding process for a stake in the construction, spread across an ambitious 18-month timeline.

“More than half of our classroom space is now in buildings completed since 2020,” Cowell said, nodding to TPACC, which opened to students three years ago this month, providing much-needed space for creativity, learning, and community. The Lizzie has quickly become a place where students want to be, creating endless opportunities for collaboration among students and between students and faculty.

“I think the biggest thing is having collaborative spaces for students, having more collaborative opportunities both formally and informally for students in the space that allows students to develop group work and collaboration and all the things that we love,” said Math Department Chair Alisa Croft. “The physical space for gathering is good. There are benches and tables and chairs. It feels more like college. It changes the student experience the same way TPACC does. We didn't have these spaces prior to these buildings being built. It’s a big change.”

The Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Center for Innovation and Active Citizenship was made possible through the generosity of many donors, including Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch ’72; Lucio and Joan Noto P’97, Trustee Emerita; Nick Molnar ’72; Gary and Beth Glynn, Board Secretary; Steve Bent ’59, Trustee Emeritus; Nell Solley and Josh Feil ’98; Chris Bozzuto and Bill Tolley P’08 ’14, Former Trustee; and Adam Gerry P’21, Trustee. The seating in the building’s community spaces was made possible through a donation from Dick Tager ’56. Phil Farmer P’05, and his wife, the late Gretchen Farmer P’05, a member of the Board of Trustees and loyal supporter of the school, funded in part many of the building’s sustainability features. The new patio, which features a propane-powered fire pit overlooking the Quad, was funded by The Peng Family in honor of Zachary Peng ’23. 

View photos of the Opening of The Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Center for Innovation and Active Citizenship in our SmugMug Gallery.

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