One of Abu Dhabi's oldest schools is moving to a new campus in the capital after almost half a century.
American Community School is relocating to a state-of-the-art facility housed on six hectares on Saadiyat Island, which is expected to be ready in the autumn of 2023.
The emirate's only American non-profit community school has been based at its present home in Khalidiya since 1975.
The school site was built on land donated by the Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed.
At the time, the school had eight classrooms, a kindergarten, a large library, offices, and a capacity for 200 pupils.
“Construction of our current campus began in 1974 … and that was back when our capacity was only 200 pupils,” said Monique Flickinger, superintendent at the school.
“And then we kept growing and growing over time. We've literally been growing right alongside the UAE with the country.
“ACS and the UAE, I think, are a shining example of the partnership that has existed between the Emiratis and Americans here in Abu Dhabi.”
Last month, the school broke ground on its new campus, after planning the expansion for three years.
The new campus will include a new Arabic Institute of Excellence to promote fluency among its pupils and in the region.
Several dignitaries as well as Abu Dhabi and US government officials attended the ceremony including Khaldoon Al Mubarak, an alumnus of the school and group chief executive and managing director of Mubadala Investment Company; Sara Musallam, chairwoman of the Department of Education and Knowledge; Sean Murphy, Chargé d’Affaires of the United States Embassy Abu Dhabi; Matt Ayoub, ACS alumnus and chairman of the ACS Board of Trustees, and Mariet Westermann, vice chancellor of NYU Abu Dhabi.
Distinguished former pupil proud of achievements
“ACS is still a big part of my life. I was in the first graduating class and now, almost 30 years later, my children attend ACS,” said Mr Al Mubarak.
“As a family, we are proud to be part of the school’s long history of academic innovation and excellence.
"It is a wonderful school. I think it has made an immense contribution to this country and to Abu Dhabi over the years.
“We are about to celebrate our 50th anniversary as a nation and this school has been part of this journey hand in hand, with the journey of the UAE and of course of Abu Dhabi.
"I think ACS is going to bring a lot of happiness to a lot of children for many generations to come. A lot of pupils that will graduate from this institution will go on and do great things."
Designed by international architectural firm Broadway Malyan, the campus will be double the size of the current site and will be able to accommodate 1,600 pupils.
Ms Flickinger told of the huge scale of the move.
“We're transitioning our entire campus over to the new location,” said Ms Flickinger.
“We will be moving all 1,200 pupils over to the new campus, and then slowly over time, we'll be growing the capacity of the school up to 1,600 pupils.
“The purpose of the expansion was for us to be able to reimagine our current facilities in a much more modern way.”
Bright future for school
The new campus will have design-technology labs focused on robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and virtual reality. A greenhouse in a fully-equipped science wing will serve as a hands-on classroom for teaching about food security and energy conservation.
The sprawling grounds will also have two swimming pools, three full-sized indoor basketball courts, a Fifa-sized football pitch, a six-lane running track and a wellness centre.
“We were thinking of how we could create a new campus that focused on sustainability, not only through the facility, but through the programmes we teach,” said Ms Flickinger.
“We're going to be doubling the size of our campus, but only increasing our student capacity by about 30 per cent.
“This allows us to expand in space because we had many pupils who wanted to get in and we unfortunately, did not had the space for other pupils to join us here at this campus.
“We're, we're in a tight squeeze here, or we're living elbow to elbow, and I'd like to be able to, like, wiggle out and have a little bit more room.”
The school will be working to promote teaching of Arabic, science, mathematics, theatre and technology.
The school will also have a focus on engineering, innovation and sustainability.
The school will take a fresh approach to its environment, with hallways used for learning as part of a shift away from traditional classrooms.
Tuition fees at the new campus will not change drastically from their current level, the school said.
Fees are regularly reviewed by their board of trustees.
Ms Flickinger said about 85 per cent of the budget goes towards paying staff salaries.
“So our campus was not designed to be paid for by our tuition,” she said.
“Our school fees are determined by what we need to hire the best teachers in the world.”