MONS, Belgium – The bell rang and classes opened for the start of a new school year back in August. On Monday, the SHAPE community marked the beginning of a new era.
Top military and civilian leaders from Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, the Department of Defense Education Activity and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officially dedicated the U.S. sections during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at SHAPE International School. The new Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe elementary and middle schools – to be followed by an American high school this coming winter – are the first to open as part of a multinational-funded venture to build a state-of-the-art campus on this NATO base by the fall of 2019.
The $180 million design and construction project, which includes an estimated $105 million for the DODDS-Europe piece, is rooted in a command vision launched more than six years ago to make SHAPE a choice destination for troops and their families. Citing quality of education as a key enabler for the headquarters, leaders say SHAPE must be considered a premier place for them to live and learn.
“It is the sense of community, unique to military families, that underpins the ability to serve effectively in a world defined by continuous transition,” said Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO’s supreme allied commander Europe and head of U.S. European Command. “And a school ... serves perhaps the most prominent role in our communities. As an anchor of stability for our families to gravitate to, and a safe haven for our children to grow and prosper in, our schools reinforce that sense of community to our children – no matter where their parent’s service takes them.”
The aging school structures here were designed to be temporary when first built in 1967 – engineers have said 83 percent of the facilities are substandard and need replacing. The new SHAPE American elementary and middle schools represent the first step in the modernization of all 12 national school sections on the international campus. Total education space also is expected to increase to nearly 548,000 square feet, double the present layout.
To make service at SHAPE appealing, facilities should be provided to attract top officers and civilians while offering room to grow and expand with NATO, Breedlove said. SHAPE International School’s overhaul represents a major domino in that effort.
“Generations of students will soon prosper from your dedication,” the general told faculty and children in the audience, many of whom waved American flags to celebrate the occasion. “That is why this event is as much a celebration about today as it is a statement regarding the enduring commitment all of our nations are making about tomorrow toward the education of our children, for it is they who will inherit the world and become its leaders and policymakers.
“This project, rooted in teamwork, is truly a reflection of the values and principles upon which our alliance was built. … This school will forever symbolize the compliance, cooperation, compromise and collaboration which are the heart and soul of NATO’s strength.”
The 114,000-square-foot SHAPE American Elementary School contains 58 classrooms, while 44 are spread throughout the 93,000-square-foot U.S. middle school. A multipurpose room, library and two gyms architecturally link the two institutions.
“DODDS schools gave me the foundation that allowed me to pursue opportunities that I never thought possible,” said Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, USACE commanding general and the Army’s 53rd chief of engineers, who attended schools in Germany and Japan as the son of an enlisted Soldier. “Our family is like many others in our military that have been blessed in ways that you as our educators may never really know, but we deeply appreciate all you did for us and on behalf of the many students who have walked through the welcoming arms of a DODDS school.”
The U.S. schools feature a mix of general-purpose, art, science, music and computer rooms, plus a media center, wireless capabilities and other technological advances. The campus design incorporates sustainability and renewable-energy concepts that meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, Silver criteria. An extensive “green” roof should further boost energy and water efficiencies in the buildings.
“These schools are student-centered – they provide functional spaces that help develop skills they will need to succeed in the future,” Bostick said.
Classes actually opened in mid-August, when USACE Europe District’s Benelux Resident Office turned over the facilities in time for the new school year. District officials said construction of the new American high school should wrap up in December, with occupancy set for February.
About 1,200 students attend DODDS at SHAPE, but the three new schools combined could hold up to 1,400.
“This is marvelous,” DODEA Director Thomas Brady said of the new facilities. “They offer us some great advantages in the classroom, where you have new technology, Smart Boards in every room, the incorporation of science, mathematics and technology – all coming together. I think it will have a dramatic impact on teaching and learning.”
A common play area in the heart of the campus will be shared by all students and was designed to promote interaction and socialization among students from all nations at SHAPE. More than 2,300 students from 41 countries attend schools here.
While the American facilities are part of DODDS, nearly 42 percent of their enrollment consists of students from countries other than the U.S., according to DODEA officials.
“That’s terrific for our students,” Brady said. “The rich diversity of the student body provides children with an opportunity to learn from each other.”
Bostick thanked the construction contractor, BESIX, and the entire SHAPE team, from DODEA and command planners to the Europe District managers and laborers involved in the work.
“The Corps of Engineers does not do anything by itself,” he said. “We relied on great contractors, their subcontractors and all of those in the leadership here at SHAPE that helped influence the design and ultimate construction of a wonderful facility.
“A strong military comes, in part, from strong families, and the Army Corps of Engineers is proud of the role we play in ensuring that our military families have the best housing, schools and facilities, wherever they may be stationed.”
SHAPE International School’s modernization program continues next summer, when work is set to start on the new United Kingdom/Canada and German buildings, as well as a combined school for Poland, Italy, Norway and Turkey. Additional common-use facilities such as playgrounds, parking lots, cafeterias and gyms also remain part of the blueprint.
“Today, as we commemorate the completion of an inspiring and critically needed building, we are celebrating among friends, friends who share our vision and aspiration for the future of our school community,” said SHAPE International School Director General Benoit Davin. “This step in the construction process has been years in the making. I look forward to standing here on the campus to attend … some other ribbon-cutting ceremonies upon the successful completion of the whole SIS project. I wish to express my deepest gratitude to every organization, body and individual that has worked so hard and extended their level of support to make our dream come true.”