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Big Plans for the Garden House

The building in the southeast corner of Packer’s Garden is a solitary and understated structure. The townhouse, known as the Garden House, was the location of several Preschool and Kindergarten classes until the opening of the Packer Early Learning Center in the fall of 2018. Since then, it has served as an outpost of the Upper School, primarily, housing a range of language, math, English, and history classes. 

Despite its unassuming appearance, the building has long been a focus of Packer’s ongoing campus plan. At the end of the 2019-20 school year, it will take center stage as the site of the school’s next major expansion. 

What is the Garden House?

The Garden House has served a range of functions throughout its nearly 150-year history. First the residence of the Head of School, it was converted to teaching spaces in the 20th century, housing Preschool and Kindergarten classes until 2018. 

Located at 57 Livingston Street, the building is a three-story neo-Georgian townhouse typical of the neighborhood. The building’s front door on Livingston is not in regular use, and students and faculty currently enter the building through a side door at the far corner of the Garden. 

Nearly a Decade in the Making 

Ensuring Continued Excellence, Packer’s 2011-2016 strategic plan, called for the Board of Trustees to pursue nearby opportunities to expand the campus. In 2014, Packer purchased the building at 100 Clinton Street with the intention to relocate the Preschool and thereby open up space on Joralemon Street for new uses. 

The September 2018 opening of the Packer Early Learning Center at 100 Clinton Street vacated the entire Garden House, which was lightly retrofitted to accommodate Upper School classes, and significant space in Founder’s Hall, where a new art studio and Innovation Lab for Lower School students were created (read our 2018 feature story). 

A Historic Project — for Packer and for Brooklyn Heights 

In June 2020, the Garden House will close for a complete renovation and significant expansion —  from about 7,500 square feet to more than 20,000 square feet. 

Aerial view of the Garden and Expanded Garden House, from Founder’s Hall, looking south.

The building will be expanded to the north into the space currently occupied by the greenhouse and the wooden play structure known as the Imagination Station. New play structures will be installed parallel to Livingston Street, and the Garden itself will be redesigned (see The Garden Transformed, below). 

New play structures will be installed along the south edge of the Garden, which will also be redesigned.

In April 2019, the school’s plans were publicly presented to Packer’s neighbors on Livingston Street, and in May to Brooklyn Community Board Two. In June, the plans were formally approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission of the City of New York. 

The project is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2022, and classes will resume in the building in September 2022. 

Designing Age-Appropriate Learning Spaces

Led by Anthony Guarna P’18, P’20, who chairs the Building and Grounds Committee of the Board of Trustees, and Samuel White of architecture firm PBDW, a team of administrators and trustees are currently developing plans for the building’s interior, with input from faculty and students.

The new Garden House will feature a spacious, ground-floor campus center for collaborative work, student meetings, exhibitions, and events, as well as some food service to alleviate daytime demand on the Commons. In addition to five multi-use classrooms and office spaces, it will include a glass-enclosed rooftop teaching space and landscaped terrace, meeting and breakout rooms, and design and innovation labs. 

Section of the new Garden House, seen from the east, toward the Garden.

The building reveals the school’s commitment to supporting learning outside the traditional classroom.

“Just as the design of the Early Learning Center reflects what we know about the needs of our youngest learners,” said Dr. Jennifer Weyburn, Head of School, “the Garden House interiors will reflect what we know about optimal learning experiences for adolescents. The new Garden House will offer a range of flexible spaces that encourage the small-group, peer-to-peer learning that is so central to older students’ experiences at Packer.” 

The new Garden House will also serve as a center for co-curricular and mission-driven programs and initiatives such as Global Programs, Community Engagement, Sustainability, and Diversity and Equity. 

The project will be funded by a combination of philanthropic support and operating revenue. The Board of Trustees “has created a thoughtful plan for the financing of this significant project,” said Sara Shulman, Director of Development, who is coordinating the fundraising efforts along with Dr. Weyburn and members of the Board. “We are so grateful for early donor support of this initiative, and we look forward to engaging the greater community as we make progress.” 

The Garden Transformed

The debut of the new Garden House will coincide with the opening of a redesigned Garden, spearheaded by landscape architect Billie Cohen

The existing octagonal concrete seating will be removed, and planting beds and large-scale wooden seating will be installed in different areas of the Garden. According to Maxine Coleman, Director of Campus Operations and Public Safety, who is overseeing the project for Packer, this change will enlarge the Garden’s usable open space despite the larger footprint of the new Garden House. 

“The Garden design responds to the new building, providing increased connection from the main building and creating better pathways across the Garden,” she said. “I think the Garden will feel like the true center of the campus, more than ever.”

While the renovation of the Garden will likely take place toward the end of the two-year project, access to the Garden will at times be reduced, as required by the changing demands of the construction. 

A high priority for the remainder of the current school year is to develop plans to “preserve some access to our outdoor space while ensuring student safety at every phase of the construction,” said Maxine Coleman, Director of Campus Operations and Public Safety. Teams in every division will be identifying alternate locations and times for students to have opportunities for active, unstructured, and independent play. The first phase of those plans will be shared with Packer families in the spring of 2020.

Packer's Next Chapter

Although initiated by the Board of Trustees under the leadership of former Head of School Bruce L. Dennis, the project will be a defining feature of Dr. Weyburn's tenure. 

“I feel fortunate to have arrived here at Packer at such a wonderful time,” reflected Dr. Weyburn. “This is really an opportunity for us to reconsider and enhance the learning spaces we have for our students. And at the same time, we're also taking a look at how to make the Garden an even more special space, for students to play and learn. We're so excited.”

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