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Manlius Pebble Hill to spend $5 million plus on athletic center, arts center, raises

By Elizabeth Doran |

Manlius Pebble Hill, a private independent school in DeWitt, plans to construct a new 10,500-square-foot athletic center plus fitness room on its campus, while converting its old gym into a two-story visual arts center.

The athletic center will include a gymnasium, training room, fitness center and locker rooms. It will be built just behind the existing gym, according to Jim Dunaway, MPH’s Head of School. Construction is to take place this summer.

The existing gym will be renovated and turned into a two-story, 4,800-square-foot visual arts center with classrooms and a gallery, Dunaway said. The second floor will house new administrative offices.

In addition, a grassy area will be enclosed and converted into a 20,800-square-foot STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) park with hands-on interactive displays. Other interior improvements such as replacing old windows also will be part of the renovations.

The new construction and upgrades are being paid for with a $5 million gift from the Mezzalingua Family Foundation, Dunaway said. John D. Mezzalingua, a 1985 MPH graduate, is president of the MPH Board of Trustees.

An anonymous donor also has given MPH a starting grant of $315,000 to help bring the salaries of employees in line with public school wages, Dunaway said. The salary adjustments will take place gradually over three years, he said.

Another $100,000 grant from a former student is funding the start of a multi-year aim to bolster the school’s financial aid program.

“Our goal is to make it possible for any qualified student to attend MPH, regardless of family financial circumstances,” Dunaway said. The school is seeking additional funding to continue supporting this goal, he said.

The school currently has 315 students enrolled, Dunaway said.

Dunaway said the improvements mark a turning point in MPH’s future, which several years ago was facing a severe financial crunch. In December 2014, the school laid off several staff members, raised tuition and made cuts in financial aid as it faced a large deficit.

The school’s head of school at the time, Scott Wiggins, resigned and the school appointed new board members, began fundraising and set to work getting the school back on solid financial ground.

MPH Rising, as the new initiative is called, is a sign that the school’s efforts since that time have succeeded, Dunaway said.

“The school has really turned the corner,” Dunaway said. “More than 90 percent of our students who aren’t graduating are returning next year. People’s confidence in us is back.”

Manlius Pebble Hill dates back to the founding in 1869 of The Manlius School, a military academy. It merged with Pebble Hill School in 1970. It is set on 26 acres off Jamesville Road in DeWitt.