Friends' Central Honored with Lower Merion Historic Preservation Award
Friends' Central Honored with Lower Merion Historic Preservation Award

This fall, Friends’ Central School and architect Barba + Wheelock were selected for a Lower Merion Township Historic Preservation Award for the School’s newly renovated Ulmer Family Light Lab on the Lower School campus.

Formerly the carriage house for the original estate, built around 1885, the Light Lab is a groundbreaking center for the innovation and creation of students in Nursery-grade 5. The Light Lab was selected for recognition as “a great example of the historic preservation standards that the Township’s Historical Architectural Review Board and Historical Commission work to uphold.”  Housing four distinct Makerspace studios in Natural Sciences, Fabrication, Media & Computing, and Design, the Light Lab provides Friends’ Central’s youngest learners and makers myriad opportunities to create, invent, and learn.

Friends’ Central Lower School Principal Kelly Bird Pierre and architect Nancy Barba of Barba + Wheelock received the award on behalf of the School at a ceremony that took place on October 19 at the Levering Mill Tribute House. Co-hosted by the Historical Commission and the Historical Architectural Review Board (HARB) of Lower Merion Township, the evening recognized and celebrated outstanding work and significant service in historic preservation within the Township. Friends’ Central received additional thanks for saving a “secondary” estate building as it is far more common for carriage houses these to be demolished.  

Since opening in October 2016, the Light Lab has been a repository for student creativity. Tools like 3D printers, laser and vinyl cutters, woodworking and art supplies, software for animation, filmmaking, and recording music, as well as experimenting with hydroponics and vertical farming for a thriving farm-to-table program, are just some of the highlights of this cutting-edge facility that was designed specifically for children ages 3-11. From functioning windmills and fans in the “If the World Were a Village” project in grade five to creating an interactive Rainforest board using Makey Makeys in the Kindergarten’s study of the Rainforest, the Light Lab gave students and teachers the opportunity to dream and create in many ways in just its first year.

Lower School Principal Kelly Bird Pierre shares, “This award is particularly meaningful because as a school, we try to balance practices that are tried and true with looking forward and preparing our students for their futures. This repurposed Carriage House is a terrific illustration of valuing what has come before and modifying it to ensure its relevancy.”