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New science center brings life back to Park School

Park School is setting a high bar for science education in Western New York, with the opening of its new science center.

The 11,000-square-foot building has four state-of-the art classrooms, a field station with an overhead door for easy access to the nearby marsh and extensive glass throughout, to draw in the light and natural surroundings of the private school’s 34-acre campus on Harlem Road in Amherst.

But what sets the project apart is the 260-foot man-made stream that flows down a hill and empties into an old pond that’s been on the land since it was used as a farm.

Not only has the stream helped bring the campus ecosystem back to life, but it’s providing students with a hands-on education and a connection to the outdoors – principles that Park was founded on more than 100 years ago, said Jeremy Besch, head of school.

A grand opening for the new Knopp-Hailpern Science Center was held over the summer – but students at Park didn’t know what they truly had until they returned in September.

“It’s really a big leap for the school,” said Emma Stanczyk, 16, a junior at Park. “We’ve always had this beautiful campus, but with this building we can make better use of the campus and connect it with our students in a more meaningful way.”

Water from the pond – which had been deemed unsuitable for plant and aquatic life – is pumped up the escarpment through pipes to the top of the hill and into a pool of water next to the science center. The water is circulated back into the pond after running down three small cascades and traveling through a gravel stream bed.

Park junior Emma Stanczyk looks for wildlife in the revived pond near the new Knopp-Hailpern Science Center on the 34-acre Park School campus. Thanks to a giant backyard pump and the creation of a 260-foot stream, "it’s created an entirely new ecosystem,” said Jeremy Besch, head of school. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

“It’s basically a gigantic backyard pump,” Besch said. “What we were hoping, and what we started to see, is it’s created an entirely new ecosystem.”

Baby turtles appeared.

More fish emerged.

Blue heron arrived.

The flow of the stream can be controlled, Besch said, allowing for any number of classroom experiments to determine how that might affect the health of the water and surrounding ecosystem from season to season.

“What this enables us to do is have kids do their own investigation – which is the basis of science,” said Margaret Diamond, a science teacher and science resources coordinator at Park. “It will be inquiry at its best.”

In fact, Besch believes students from other schools would benefit from the experience, as well. He hinted at opening up the opportunity for class trips.

CannonDesign was the building architect while Bayer Landscape Architecture designed the outdoor spaces. Clearwater Restoration, a firm based in Jackson, Wyo., designed and installed the stream.

Park, which enrolls 280 students in grades pre-K through 12, raised more than $6 million for the new science building, its first new academic building in more than 50 years and arguably, Besch said, the most significant in its history.

“This just doesn’t happen anywhere else, either because of the resources or the willingness to do it,” Besch said. “This was sort of a pie in the sky thing at first that became this wonderful reality.”

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