On January 7, Hampton Roads Academy (HRA) will have a ribbon-cutting grand opening for its new 28,000-square-foot building. It has been a year since the project was announced. The largest expansion in HRA’s 50-year history, it includes a 400-seat dining hall, 12 lower school classrooms and a hydroponics lab for growing leafy greens.
Peter W. Mertz, head of school, excitedly outlines the many improvements included in this much anticipated addition. The dining hall will be run by an executive chef (formerly at Kingsmill). “No more ‘brought-in’ lunches,” says Mertz. “There will be more healthy options. We plan a ‘cooking club’ and something we call ‘cooking for college,’ so students won’t be living on noodles.” There will also be an emphasis on “farm to table.” Greens grown in the hydroponics lab will be used for meals. Any excess will be donated to local food banks.
The 12 new lower school classrooms will be spacious and include an “Innovation Lab/Makerspace,” where students will learn to use materials for designing and building creative projects.
HRA was founded in 1959, with 60 students in grades 7 – 11. The 72-acre site was chosen because it was centrally located and near the then-proposed I-64 project. It was funded by patron subscriptions and a bank loan. Books and trees were donated. The first graduating class in June 1961 numbered six students.
Today HRA offers a state-of-the-art learning experience. The school is committed to learning on the athletic fields, the stage and in the art studios, as well as in the classroom.
HRA remains the first and only independent nonsectarian secondary college-preparatory school on the Virginia Peninsula. One hundred percent of the graduates are accepted to a college or university. The Class of 2019 earned more than $6 million in merit-based scholarships and awards. HRA accepts no government funds. Support comes solely from tuition and donations. In addition to the Peninsula, students come from Toano, Gloucester, Suffolk and Smithfield.
“We are preparing students for jobs that don’t exist yet,” says Mertz. “We live in an ever-changing job market where leadership and analytical thinking are important,” he adds.
“I start my day at 6 am,” says Mertz. “I leave between 5:30 pm and 9:30 pm, depending on the day’s activities. Of course, I also attend weekend events.” Mertz has been at HRA for nine years. “I was attracted to the school because of the students and the collaborative relationships. I felt it on the first day,” he adds.
Mertz graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts with majors in psychobiology and English. His master’s degree from Barrie in Miami is in business administration. “While in Florida I lived on a boat,” he says. Originally from Saratoga, New York, Mertz came to HRA from Maine, where he held a head of school position for 10 years. He also held the top job at schools in Kentucky and Georgia. Mertz teaches English at HRA.
HRA has alumni chapters throughout the country. “I attend their meetings when possible. I love to hear the ‘old stories,’”Mertz says. “We do a good job of keeping in touch with our alums,” he adds.
Lauren Scott, director of marketing and communications, has been at HRA for seven years. She maintains the website and handles all advertising and contact with the media. She has been busy preparing for the upcoming grand opening. Scott has a Bachelor of Science degree in communications from Radford University. “The benefits of the school speak for themselves,” she says. “Word of mouth is powerful.”
Wendy Drucker, principal broker at Drucker + Falk Real Estate, is a long-time supporter of HRA. A 1976 graduate, she has been involved with the academy in a variety of ways. Her two children are alums. She has served in many positions, including a former trustee and past board chair. Now a board member emeritus, she attends meetings when possible. Drucker’s main contribution to the school is as a fundraiser. She has chaired two capital campaigns, as well as the recent one. She worked with the architects and helped plan the new facility. “I have been involved with the Annual Fund Committee for years,” she says.
“HRA is very special to me,” Drucker says. “It is an honor to be a part of something so important. We have such great support from the board, staff, business community, former students, parents and grandparents.”
TO THE POINT:
Hampton Roads Academy
Address: 739 Academy Lane, Newport News, VA 23602
Contacts: Peter W. Mertz, head of school; Lauren Scott, director of marketing and communications