Hill-Murray gets $2 million donation

Hill-Murray School in Maplewood will soon be able to broaden its acceptance criteria due to a $2 million donation that will fund a new learning center.

The learning center, which will be named The Nicholas Center, is fully-funded by a donation given to the school by a family which is passionate about students with special learning needs, according to Hill-Murray President Susan Paul.

The center is named for St. Nicholas, not the family, which Paul says wishes to remain anonymous.

"I can't tell you how grateful we are for this gift to the school and the community," Paul said. "We believe this gift will transform lives. This will give us an ability to open our arms to more kids who need or want a Hill-Murray education."

Hill-Murray currently has a learning center that is barely the size of a full classroom and serves around 90 students. The Nicholas Center will transform the lower gymnasium into several classrooms, and a floor will be added for more classroom space and areas for quiet reading.

Because of the expanded space, Paul said the school will have the ability to accept more students with learning challenges.

"We know that we turn away bright, capable students who learn differently and we want to expand the services to provide the support they need to earn a Hill-Murray diploma," Paul wrote in a letter to Hill-Murray parents.

New approaches

The idea for The Nicholas Center arose when Paul and other school officials were discussing ways to increase students' reading abilities. In talking about the different ways children learn, the idea ballooned into early plans for a learning center that could cater to the needs of many different learners, from students who need tests read aloud to them to students who require a quieter classroom environment in order to focus well.

Because of Hill-Murray's current limited learning center, students who could thrive at the school with the right help are sometimes turned away. But some of those students don't qualify for special education programs at public schools. Paul wants Hill-Murray to bridge that gap and be a place for students with different needs to thrive.

"We'll have the capacity to help kids who have needs that aren't being met," Paul said. "We are growing the program as the space is being created."

The Nicholas Center will include everything from classroom space to a quiet reading area to a productivity center with computers and printers, Paul said. Since the project is fully-funded by donation, construction will begin immediately with the goal of opening the center this fall.

A dedication for the center will be held on Dec. 6, the day of the feast of St. Nicholas.

The new learning center isn't the only upcoming construction project at Hill-Murray, though. Seven new science labs and new art studios will be created on the top floor of the school's academic wing, and windows will be put in the basement for overall better air quality in the building.

Sheri Lunn, school communications and marketing director, said right now is one of the most exciting times Hill-Murray School has experienced.

"There's an incredible momentum," Lunn said. "We are excited to reinvest in the community."

Amanda Lillie can be reached at alillie@lillienews.com or by calling 651-748-7814.