Take a look at Dana Hall School’s renovated Upper School Building in Wellesley

During a school-wide ribbon-cutting event at Dana Hall in Wellesley last month, spirits were high, and not just because it was almost time for the 450 students to start their two-week spring break. The March 4 celebration was all about the re-opening and reinvention of the three-story Upper School Classroom Building of the private all-girls day and boarding school. The $30 million+ project was funded by over 450 donors, along with grant money from the Manton Foundation.

“None of the costs have been covered by tuition…These donors believe in the mission of Dana Hall. They want you to have the best possible experience, in the best possible facility.” Head of School Katherine Bradley told students during opening day remarks.

We were invited in for a tour of the 74k sq. ft. building that features flexible classrooms, common spaces for collaboration and connection, purpose-built art studios, a Makerspace and choral room, all fully accessible and ADA compliant. Here’s how Dana tackled the renovation of a 1956 building that for almost 70 years let in little natural light and offered all the aesthetic pleasure of the Brutalism architectural style popular during that time period.

Dana Hall, Wellesley
The planning for this building, which serves students grades 9-12, started in 2019 with an architect team from Dario Design and general contractors Construction Management & Builders. Sections of the building were torn down and rebuilt, The remaining hallways in between were gutted and renovated. This entrance is for the Upper School’s classrooms. There is another entrance for the Upper School administrative offices.

Dana Hall, Wellesley

“What the architects wanted to do was honor the past of the school so the middle exterior of the building is as it was in the 1950s. then what they did was basically gutted the entire inside. It’s really fun to hear from alums that the outside is familiar to them,” Rob Mather, associate head of school and my tour guide said. “We did have two wings on the old building. They removed those and built these two major wings.”

The previous building relied heavily on 1950s cinderblock and artificial lighting. The design team provided plenty of natural light, right on down to the basement via walls of windows in the new wings, and skylights in the older section. “The goal was to reflect the past, present, future of the school,” Mather said.

Dana Hall, Wellesley
Seating outside the administrative offices has come a long way from the days when hapless students sat in chairs lined up against a wall outside the principal’s office. Not that Dana has ever seen much need for a strong disciplinarian approach. Or a principal (that’s head-of-school, if you please). Throughout the building are open areas with break-out spaces, similar to the above, for students to connect academically and socially to enhance a sense of community. In addition to administrators’ offices, college counseling and learning specialists are in the Upper School building now to bring students closer to the resources.


Dana Hall, Wellesley
A typical classroom now lets in plenty of natural light and offers expansive sight lines across campus. The building has been brought up to code with safety and accessibility measures throughout, including sprinklers, ramps, and an elevator. Each floor has a different color palette for those with a visual impairment, or who just tend to get lost or disoriented. A new HVAC system and the year-round climate control that comes with such a wonder is a welcome addition.

The classrooms are utilitarian spaces. Teachers lead a nomadic existence going from classroom to classroom, without  individual teaching spaces they call their own, or even a desk. Each classroom has a standup desk for teachers with room for not much more than a laptop. Students sit at tables and chairs that can be easily moved into multiple configurations as the situation calls for. If teachers want to sit during class time, they simply pull up one of the chairs/tables that students also use. Floors are carpeted, so no need for tennis balls on chair and table legs to minimize the noise during all that moving around. All classrooms have LED projectors. When we peeked in on a class, the projectors were in use, and students in small groups had their laptops out. The school has a 6:1 ratio of students to teachers.

A separate faculty workspace area has three rooms outfitted for video conferencing for meetings with families or colleagues from other schools.

Dana Hall, Wellesley
Waldo Auditorium was expanded to 621 seats to allow the entire school population to fit. Previously, the kids would sit and the adults would stand in the back. Now everyone gets a seat. Theatre and other arts performances will still take place in Bardwell, across from Hunnewell School. This auditorium is for study hall, standardized tests, morning meetings, and the like.


Dana Hall, Wellesley
Skylights bring light right down into the basement, which has been rebranded as “the lower level.” Word is that the seniors are making moves to claim this corner as their own. Apparently it’s not a bad napping spot, pesky skylights notwithstanding. And snacks are allowed, so perfect.


Dana Hall, Wellesley
The music room, lower level, is soundproofed. Exterior regrading has brought light inside to the previously cavern-like space.

The Makerspace is a work in progress as computer science and engineering department teacher Pat Townsend unpacks new equipment by the day and finishes setting up. This is the spot with all the toys—3-D printers, laser printer, woodworking tools galore, along with a dust collector system and other safety features.

Townsend described the latest project the students will work on. “I’m gong to have them design a bridge with a robot going across and the boat has to go under. I want them to do calculations on how high the bridge has to be, and the span of it, as well as the ramps coming up so that the robot can go over it. It can’t be too steep a grade, and the boat has to go under and clear the bridge.”

Dana Hall, Wellesley

Dana Hall, Wellesley
An art room.


I have this theory that all students want their school to look like Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, a fanciful and Gothic castle with nooks and crannies that would take an entire academic career to fully explore. The other part of this theory is that school administrators want their school to be a place that signals “Serious Modern Learning Environment That Will Prepare Students for the 21st Century.”

And yet, there are nods to Dana’s 1881 roots, a time when mystery and fanciful touches existed alongside “Serious Modern Learning.” A mythical creature carved into a bench of solid oak is a visual piece of history, now part of the Upper School’s entryway.


Dana Hall, Wellesley
Dana Hall, Wellesley


And even a “Serious Modern Environment” isn’t immune to a healthy dose of mystery. On a summer day in 2023, a bronze statue was dropped off at Dana by a gentleman who said he had something that belonged to the school. His story, which he stuck to, was that the the Amor Caritas bronze sculpture by American artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens had been inadvertently packed up by movers when he (and his wife) left the employ of Dana Hall. The gentleman wouldn’t leave his name, just the treasure.

It’s not like the school hadn’t even noticed it was missing. Archivists thought that it had likely gone to the Chestnut Hill campus of Pine Manor Junior College when the school left Wellesley in 1964. Director of Communications Liza Cohen has written a great piece about the mystery.

Dana Hall, Wellesley
Dana Hall is 99% certain that this Amor Caritas bronze sculpture by American artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens is the same one that went missing from the school in the 1970s.


Sustainability at Dana Hall

The new Upper School building is all-electric and LEEDs certifiable, according to Mather. Solar panels were not a part of the project, but he says Dana may add an array later.

The HVAC system and the entire building runs on electricity, allowing for a net zero carbon emission. Dana Hall sources their clean energy from the Town of Wellesley.

The idea behind retaining the original shell of the previous building was to avoid creating demand for cement. “By maintaining the initial shell, Dana Hall was able to reuse essential carbon intensive materials and reduce the amount of new concrete used by 50%.”

Other materials were chosen based on high recycled content such as steel framing (90-100% recycled material); aluminum curtainwall and storefront systems (80-100%); asphalt paving (80%); and carpet (45%).

The building is heated using heat pumps with a thermostat in each room to allow temperature regulation by occupants.

Outside lighting consists of exterior fixtures that pool light downward.

To address stormwater management, no additional nonporous materials were added to the exterior of the building. The drop off area right outside the Upper School is made out of stone pavers so water can drain through them as opposed to run off. Gravel has been added to the outdoor landscaping to facilitate water absorption and reduce mud and erosion. In addition, the renovation has implemented a Subsurface Stormwater Basin, a space for the storage of stormwater where accumulated pollutants can be removed and further treatment can be applied.

Looking at the frozen ground outside the building, Mather said, “We still have some landscaping to do.”

Hint: It won’t be rolls of perfect green sod, thirsty and requiring lots of fertilizer. Look for native perennials and drought-resistant plants.

Then, as always, it will be on to the next thing.

Please support your local news source, The Swellesley Report