Upgrading Facilities

Building for the Future

As our programs and community evolve and adapt to meet the needs of the 21st century, so must the buildings and facilities that house them.
The strategic plan at the heart of The Next Peak campaign identifies three facility upgrades needed within the next several years in order to provide the highest quality spaces for the important work of our students, faculty, and staff. Our classrooms, Dining Hall, and athletics facilities all require big changes as we prepare our School for another century of success.


Shifts in what students need to learn, as well as advancements in our understanding of how they learn, mean that we’re rethinking how classrooms fit into and complement a Thacher education. Our teachers are working to emphasize hands-on learning and innovative thinking in our curriculum; we need more adaptable spaces outfitted with the necessary tools to support and inspire creation, innovation, and learning.

Heart of Campus

The venerated, 100-year-old Hills Dining Hall, the site of Formal Dinners and School-wide celebrations, and the heart and soul of our community, no longer meets our needs. We plan to build a new facility that will better endorse and advance our commitment to community, as well as our commitment to creating a more sustainable campus, the centerpiece of which is healthy, thoughtfully sourced food. The new facility will comfortably seat more people, provide adequate space for our operational needs, and complement our sustainability goals. The Hills building and Olympus will undergo a renovation to provide much-needed additional office and reception space.  

Athletic Facilities

Lastly, it had been too long since we had invested significantly in our athletic facilities. Thanks to the generosity of the community, funds have already been raised to make improvements to the upper, lower, and baseball fields. Soccer, baseball, and lacrosse players are now training in safer, higher-quality environments that also help us significantly reduce our water consumption. 

We know that major renovation and construction require extensive resources and place real stress on student life. With that in mind, we don’t take on the expense or the disruption without the conviction that these projects will truly advance the Thacher program.

Thacher’s GATES is the first academic building built on campus in close to 40 years and will be a collaborative, cross-curriculum, hands-on learning space for generations of Thacher students. Fundraising for the project is underway. To be a part of this important milestone,
click here.

— Winston Churchill

We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.

Upgrading Facilities

Renewing the Academic Core

The major technological advances and cultural changes of the past decade mean that the students of today are growing and learning in a markedly different environment than previous generations.
We know that revitalizing the academic core of campus to better complement our evolving curriculum and teaching methods is essential. This is particularly true of the Anson S. Thacher Building (AST), which houses roughly 40 percent of our classroom space and, like many of our academic buildings, was built to meet pedagogical practices that are now outdated and doesn’t easily accommodate the new approaches to deep and enduring learning that our faculty and students are pursuing today.

Teaching and Learning

Teachers are increasingly being called upon to function as coaches and facilitators of student-centered learning, acting as both subject-matter experts and cultivators of traits like creativity, ingenuity, and communication through hands-on applied learning opportunities. The old teacher-centric model of “the sage on the stage” has shifted to one more centered around the student. This, in turn, calls into question the current configuration of our older learning spaces.

Any classroom renovation or rebuild necessitates deep thinking about teaching and learning. How do we create spaces that will support our long-term vision? And how do we remain true to the core educational values and relationship-based learning that have always defined our school while, at the same time, evolving to meet the changing world of today?

Gathering STEAM

In recent decades, Thacher has embraced student-centered pedagogies with interdisciplinary course offerings and hands-on, project-based learning. Many of these approaches work especially well within the Thacher educational ethos, where small class sizes, high academic expectations, and close community relationships provide an essential framework for inspiring great work in teenagers. Indeed, our horse and outdoor programs have always served to introduce mentoring, exploration, risk-taking, problem-solving, and collaboration. Our woodworking and computer science programs and, more recently, our dance and electronic music studios, computer labs, coding club meetings, 3D-printing rooms, laser cutting garages, and our newly renovated Thacher Observatory are serving the same purpose.

New Academic Core

The AST building was constructed in 1965 and last “modernized” in 1983. A cinderblock facility with walled-off, box-like learning spaces, the AST minimizes windows and conceals activities related to computer science, history, language, physics, engineering, and visual arts. For a program that hopes to expose students to new ideas and perspectives and to foster cross-disciplinary connections wherever possible, this is a significant deficit. Other than minor renovations and technology upgrades to these and other spaces, Thacher hasn’t made any material investments in our academic facilities in 35 years.
After considerable analysis, we’ve determined that we are best served by replacing the building and reimagining it as a center for multi-disciplinary creativity, exploration, and learning, complete with room to move and break out into small groups, as well as labs and maker spaces that support project-based, applied learning opportunities. This will be the brand new Gates Rough-House—the first step in a campus-wide strategic effort to reimagine our learning environment.

Academic Core Master Planning Process

Our faculty and a group of expert advisors engaged in a multi-year process to reimagine how we use our classrooms for multi-disciplinary creativity, exploration, and learning. They studied research, interviewed experts, and conducted site visits at other institutions (e.g. the design lab at Stanford). They also conducted a comprehensive inventory of our own academic spaces, a process that will continue in partnership with the new educational technology integrator. What’s become evident is: our faculty is the driving force behind our plans to build more flexible and dynamic teaching spaces that facilitate multi-disciplinary creativity, exploration, and learning; we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rethink Thachers academic core; and the centerpiece of our academic renovations will be a new Gates Rough-House—our first major academic facility upgrade since 1981.

Architect’s Notes

List of 3 items.

  • The new GATES building anchors a re-envisioned academic core. Three robust barn-like buildings housing studios, classrooms, and maker spaces surround a light-filled atrium for interdisciplinary learning.

  • The two-story atrium enables flexible breakout work, gallery and exhibition uses, art and design pin-ups, as well as less formal lecture and gathering. This transparent inner core creates connections, inspiring curiosity and fostering collaboration.

  • The surrounding “learning barns” include high-tech maker spaces, cutting edge classrooms, and versatile studios with all spaces connecting directly to the atrium, as well as to outdoor work spaces.

—Sherman Day Thacher, 1921

“We who try to prepare our [students] for college in a certain way, are in danger of thinking no other way will produce good results. I try, however, to stop occasionally and consider whether some radically different way may not produce better results, and I think this often proves to be true.

Upgrading Facilities

Heart of Campus

The spaces that make up the heart of Thacher’s campus—the Hills Building, Olympus, and the Pergola—represent not only the places that we gather to share meals, exchange ideas, and conduct important school business, but also where we take the time to hear and understand one another, and to honor our traditions and our community.
When Sherman Day Thacher established his school, he thoughtfully constructed spaces that would support and inspire a distinctive culture. More than 125 years later, we continue to believe that the relationships between buildings, landscapes, and people matter. And we recognize that in order to ensure that the campus core can continue to help us meet our mission, some all-encompassing changes are needed.

Michael Kent and Joy Sawyer Mulligan Hall

The Hills Dining Hall, built in 1897 to accommodate 25 students, updated with a kitchen in 1948, and fully renovated in the 1980s, has nurtured our community for generations. But today the shoehorned floor plan and bad acoustics mean it’s crowded, noisy, and unfit for its current purposes. The building, were it not grandfathered, would not meet codes relating to fire, earthquake, or access for individuals with disabilities. And it doesn’t measure up to basic notions of sustainability or accommodate our food service needs as we continue to improve the health and sustainability of our offerings.

A new building is planned. Michael Kent and Joy Sawyer Mulligan Hall—so named to celebrate and honor their many years of service, devotion, and leadership—will allow our culture to thrive, fulfill operational needs, and meet codes. The new design will honor the historic Hills Dining Hall with a fireplace, plaques, wood walls, and the familiar round tables and lazy susans. It will feature seating for up to 320, a kitchen capable of producing 800 to 1,000 meals per day, and an acoustic environment that encourages conversation. The surrounding grounds will be integrated into events, banquets, gatherings, and more.

The end result will be a dining hall that accommodates our entire community while strengthening our mission, values, and unique culture—a fitting way to honor the Mulligans, who have worked so tirelessly to cultivate and foster the ideals of intentional community life.

Revamped Hills and “Olympus” Building

What we know today as the Hills Dining Hall and Olympus is one of the most historic structures at Casa De Piedra. The "Main Building," as it was known, was completed in 1897 and housed students and faculty residences, classrooms, dining facilities, and a parlor where Mr. Thacher held nightly readings for his students, complete with grahams and milk. Its unique design transposes East Coast tradition and European influence onto our Western setting. Over the years, the facility has been remodeled and repurposed, leaving little of the original building. This project aims to restore the structure to some of its original grandeur and purpose. It will provide the Head of School and faculty with much-needed office, meeting, and workspace. A new Admission Office will welcome prospective students and their families. And a restoration of Mr. Thacher’s parlor will serve as an enriching meeting place for students and adults.

Extending the Pergola

Since the earliest days, the Pergola has been the site of some of our most treasured traditions: Assemblies, Banquets, TOADTalks, grahams and milk. It’s also a crossroads that sees countless spontaneous and informal gatherings. It links our community, the outdoors, and the entire Ojai Valley, over which it presents a commanding view. We believe that the connection between the Commons, the refurbished Hills, and the new dining hall will be strengthened by an extended Pergola that reaches to the west. This newly defined area will include a large, flat community space for special events and spontaneous recreational activities, in addition to including a more defined and welcoming entrance for visitors. It will be tightly integrated with the Mully, where terrace seating, glass walls, and unobstructed views will blur the boundary between indoors and out.

Fundraising Progress

  1. 100
  2. 90
  3. 80
  4. 70
  5. 60
  6. 50
  7. 40
  8. 30
  9. 20
  10. 10
  11. 0
Percent Raised: 74%

Project Highlights

List of 3 items.

  • The creation of “the Mully,” a new dining hall that fits our entire community and our mission.

  • Renovation of the historic and venerable Hills and Olympus structures to their original intentions, a place where students, parents, alumni, teachers, administrators, and prospective families can come together to further conversation and understanding.

  • An extension of the Pergola so that it better serves our daily and yearly traditions, but also maintains its role as the School’s central hub and gathering place.

Upgrading Facilities

Athletics Facilities

Since Sherman Day Thacher introduced the first game of “recess baseball” on a dirt field in the center of campus in 1892, the School has embraced regular, strenuous physical activity as part of a broad educational experience.
Being engaged in a daily joint effort with teammates and coaches teaches students about commitment, teamwork, resilience, and competition. Relationships forged on the athletic field carry over to the rest of campus life. And today, students are more interested than ever in healthy lifestyles, fitness, and interscholastic sports. Virtually every student at Thacher is currently involved in team sports and fitness, which puts pressure on athletic facilities that were intended to serve far fewer teams and students.

Thanks to the generosity of our community, the athletics projects are already complete and being enjoyed by student-athletes today. Our baseball team spent last spring on an upgraded field, complete with a new infield of fresh sod and clay, new dugouts, and upgraded scoreboards. The Upper Field has also been renovated and now boasts a state-of-the-art, water-conserving athletic field that uses about 40 percent less water than the old field.

This project is fully funded—thank you to our supporters!

Project Highlights

List of 1 items.

  • Renovate Upper Field, soccer field, and baseball facilities and incorporate irrigation systems that preserve water. Completed 2015-2016.

Campaign News

Back-to-School Playbook for the 2020-2021 School Year
The Thacher School
5025 Thacher Road
Ojai, California, 93023

Tel : 805-646-4377

Notice of nondiscriminatory policy as to students: The Thacher School admits students of any race, color, national, and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the School. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national, and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admission policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other School-administered programs.