Old School New School
Thoughtful renovation of Pierre S. du Pont School in Wilmington returns pride to an architectural landmark.
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Once you get past its size—the building alone covers five acres—you begin to notice details such as the Italian marble floor in the lobby, oak trim around windows, door frames and chalkboards, and the grand skylights that spill sunshine into Pierre S. du Pont School.
The Wilmington landmark, recognized immediately by its distinctive cupola, recently underwent a $44 million renovation to restore its previous glory. The result is a building that exhibits an old-school feel, but with all the modern amenities.
“Look at that stuff up there,” says John Skrobot, co-chair of the Brandywine School District’s renovation oversight committee. He points to the auditorium’s original chandeliers, decorative grates and brass rails, all installed before the building opened in 1935. “Where do you get that kind of stuff these days?”
You don’t. The school was renovated to last, since taxpayers footed the bill. “We’re using debt money,” says construction project manager John Read. “We have to take the school 40 to 50 years out.”
Asbestos and lead were removed. A sprinkler system was added. Slate from locker room showers was turned into window sills, and wooden shelves from closets were repurposed throughout.
The renovation cost $180 per square foot. Construction of a new school would have cost more than of $310 million—seven times more than renovating.
Students and teachers now enjoy modern comforts such as air quality monitoring, a telephone-intercom in classrooms, and a cheerful cafeteria with piped-in jazz music and booths instead of fold-up tables. The shiny technology is tempered by the warm feel that comes from the classrooms’ original oak floors and wooden desks.
Impressive features such as the original skylights, which had been covered by tar and plywood for years, are once again shining. A display case houses two shovels from the original groundbreaking and a portrait of Pierre S. du Pont, for whom the school was named.
An archive room is chocked with historical artifacts such as lettermen sweaters, yearbooks, trophies and an American flag that flew when the school opened.
But don’t get the wrong idea, Read says.
“We’re not Winterthur or Longwood Gardens,” he says. “Our mission is education first, history second.” —Drew Ostroski
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