Up the Hill: House and Home

Joy Sawyer Mulligan
The last olive seedlings were being patted into their hillside spots when the first of the excited human throng poured into the lawn terraced amphitheater.
The last olive seedlings were being patted into their hillside spots when the first of the excited human throng poured into the lawn terraced amphitheater. The students, faculty and staff, and guests might have been a little out of breath from the climb, or they might simply have been knocked breathless by the beauty of this new dormitory complex—but either way, the combination of hush and hurrah hadn’t been felt since the dedication of the new Lower School dorm three years ago.
The Hill Dormitory Project, penultimate in a series of dorm renovations in the campus Master Plan, started with the razing of three buildings—Matilija, Topa Topa, and a faculty home—and a removal of a fourth (the little brown house once adjacent to Sespe). The site was especially challenging because of the terrain’s steepness and dramatic unevenness (oh, and titanic boulders just under the topsoil), but Matt Construction, the company that saw the Milligan Performing Arts Center, and the Thacher Commons, and Lower School from start to finish, embraced all of it as part of what’s interesting and ultimately satisfying about working on the Thacher campus. What Matt went to work on was a design developed over nearly a year by Roberta Jorgensen of Rossetti Architects, who collaborated closely with Thacher’s Architectural Review Committee. “It was, in fact, a highly cooperative team,” says Chuck Evans, Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds, “and given the site’s demands—30 feet of grade elevation change, complex infrastructure, site drainage and site access issues—this was critical to the success of the project—and to the creation of a distinctive and enduring facility.”
At the grand opening of the dorm, Head of School Michael Mulligan spoke to the School community and guests while standing on the bottom level of the cloistered amphitheater courtyard. There, he repeated Churchill’s famous take on the relationship between people and architecture: “We shape our buildings and afterwards, our buildings shape us.” He noted the principle of connectedness expressed in the porches, the bridges, the expansive common room and doors opening—as they do over most of the campus—to the outdoors and to neighbors across the way. He also brought to the front several of the principals—the Matt Construction folks (Senior Project Manager Charlie Mallers, Project Engineers Bowdie Broeker and Adam Eliot, Project Superintendent Joe Rakowski, Matt Vice President Dick Miller, and owner Paul Matt), Chuck Evans, Board of Trustees Buildings and Grounds Chairperson Andrew Shakman CdeP 1990, and Board of Trustees Chair Justin Faggioli. Of these last two, Michael remarked on the extraordinary commitment and leadership they brought to the fund-raising effort that was as much a part of the magnificent outcome as blueprints and backhoes.
Recognized, too, were those key players not in attendance—Tom Bostrom, Landscape Architect, and Roberta Jorgensen.
“The Hill Dorm will be here for generations of Thacher students yet to come through the gates,” Michael concluded, “because of the care and exactitude in its design and construction.”
With three spacious faculty homes designed for easy access to and from the dorms as well as for family privacy (Blossom and Brian Pidduck and their twins Addie and Daisy; Joanna Evans CdeP 1988 and David Harris; and Amy and Toby Elmore, Charlie and Stella), the new dorm includes 28 dorm rooms and five prefect rooms, restrooms on each level in each dorm building. The Commons building includes a large lounge with fireplace, a separate study for day students, two restrooms, kitchen, and a capacious laundry facility that wins high praise from prefect Claire Frykman and her cohorts watching over the dorm’s daily life.
As for sustainability concerns, Chuck reports, “Although a formal LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] certification process was not commissioned, our LEED-certified architects evaluation suggested that the project has achieved LEED Silver level. 63% of all the waste materials generated from the demolition and new construction of the project were recycled or reused, including the reuse of the old faculty home moved downhill. The project landscaping included 2,000 tons of native rock used as veneer for buildings and retaining walls and drought tolerant native plants and trees.”
Think Local also applied to the work-force engaged by Matt Construction and their team of high quality sub-contractors, 90% of whom were from Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. 60% of these contractors had also worked on the construction of Lower School. “The collaborative efforts of these subs and their proactive approach to solving field issues were a major factor in the success of the project,” concludes Chuck.
What do the new residents—sophomore girls and their senior prefects—have to say about Life on The Hill? Cayce Cover: "The Hill Dorm is Amazing!!! I definitely think that we are truly lucky to have such a nice home while we are here on campus. The thermostat is still a little confusing, but we are getting past the automatic lights!! :D The hike really helps gain some muscle tone in your legs, and it is a beautiful walk if you slow down and look around at it." Classmate Emily Jordan loves the indoors (“My greatest love of the dorm: room size!”) and what’s right outside (“Second greatest, the grass area!”), and cops to being just a little “spoiled by what is a gorgeous dorm.” Emma Patterson thinks the spaciousness is terrific, too—and “the skylight and the big windows in my room, and the wooden floors. . ." A broad smile contains all the rest.
“The Hill has turned out to be a really communal dorm,” says Hailey Everett, and then adds, “plus, the hike isn't so bad after the first week or two!” Bea Taylor echoed that the uphill climb is more than compensated for by the beauty of the place, and adds, with a wink and a grin that the place is potentially a water balloon heaven, because of the upper and lower levels. “Adequate cover provided by the large cement columns and the height difference, as well as the obvious railing. Hasn't happened yet, but it will. Oh, it will.” (As any Thacher student will tell you, shenanigans are a necessary ingredient in any happy dorm living.)
Prefect Julie Park smiles when she’s asked about the new digs. “Aside from the obvious—the fantastic group of girls who live here—there’s lots to say. Although I initially lamented over the hike, coming up to the dorm and seeing the moon rise over the mountains just beyond the dorm or watching the sun set as I walk down to Formal dinner makes up for it. The prefect rooms, complete with a skylight, are perfect for any number of activities, including munch-outs.
“As a senior, what I appreciate most about the Hill, however, is its proximity to Sespe. Being closer to other senior girls has made it much easier to run over for a quick chat or a study session, something that I'd missed in my brief weeks at the Courts, [where this group lived during the project’s completion]. The only downside is that we’re the furthest from the dining hall—but the sprinting skills I developed sophomore year are coming back to me, and I'm proud to report that I can make it to formal even when I leave my room at 5:56 with my two-inch heels.”
Science teacher and Director of the Outdoor Program Brian Pidduck CdeP 1992 spoke for Blossom (classmate, wife, and Chair of the English Department) and himself in his comments. “Addie and Daisy absolutely love it. They have room to grow and are next door to some of the most polite and fun big sisters they could ever want.” He goes on to praise the livability of the split-level living room/dining room/kitchen, as well as the viability of the study, which “provides not only a nice place to work, but more importantly space where we can easily have students, advisees, and their parents over. The fireplace adds a very homey quality and makes it a perfect venue for fireside chats or after-dinner discussions such as student/faculty committees or informal meetings.
“A lot of thought and craftsmanship went into these homes and the dorm, and we especially appreciate the care in orienting windows and patios towards the natural areas—Horn Canyon, Huntington Canyon, Nordhoff Peak and the Ojai Valley skyline. I am deeply appreciative of the 100-year-old oak that they preserved . . . in fact, the new dorm accentuates this remarkable tree, which was all but lost on the former site.
“I look forward to hearing the sound of Thacher Creek flowing down Horn Canyon once we get some winter rain.
In short, he ends, “This is a wonderful part of campus.”
Photography: Aida Ohanjanian and Joy Sawyer-Mulligan

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