New St. John Brings Delight and Questions

Photo courtesy of Ross Mortensen

Students enjoy the new Tuck Shop in the recently opened St. John Hall.

The world-class, state-of-the-art St. John Hall Student Center officially opened to the community on Monday, April 10. This 37,000 square foot building, located in the heart of campus, was designed to enhance the student experience at Choate. Director of Student Activities Mr. Jim Yanelli said, “Students always interact collaboratively, but this building gives us a setting in which to do it, whether it be in the Game Room, Bay Room, or Media Room.”

St. John Hall enables students to cooperate and connect with new spaces for activities and events. The high ceilings, windows, and general open-air feel of the building were intended to create a good flow. Parth Mody ’19 said, “At first, I thought that the building was massive because of the openness of the space and the amount of furniture and rooms in it. It is really comfortable and a great place for both boarders and day students to hang out.”

One exciting new aspect of the building is that day students and boarders are united under the same roof. Mr. Yanelli said, “Day students can be at home here, and boarders can be at home here. The lines between those populations have blurred.” Prior to the opening of St. John Hall, day student lockers were in designated spaces in the basement of Hill House, where the student lounges were divided by form in different corners of the building. However, St. John Hall fits the whole student body. Mr. Yanelli continued, “I think it is incredible and powerful when there is no division between boarders and day students.”

Abbie Chang ’19, a day student, explained, “The day students are now in the center of student life rather than hidden in the basement of Hill House. It helps to foster connections between day students and boarders, and it creates an environment in which day students feel more involved in the community, despite the fact that they don’t live on campus.”

Mr. Yanelli commented, “One question I keep on getting is: Where will the dances be held? It isn’t apparent in a room full of furniture.” The furniture that was chosen for this building is light and can be moved easily to clear the floor when events are held. Mr. Yanelli said, “The sound and light systems have been improved, and the space is gorgeous. We can expand all the way to the Tuck Shop if there are large dances. In the middle of the year, when the dances are smaller, we can shrink the dance floor in relation to the size of the event. There are many opportunities that were just not ever possible in any other building.” A brief first dance in St. John Hall took place on the night of April 13 for a half hour.

The goal of this project is to have all the spaces available to the students as much as possible. Conference rooms are available for reservations throughout the day. However, Mr. Yanelli explained, “There are some issues we are still trying to figure out, and those are the safety and risk management around the kitchen and the project room. There are some spaces that only adults or a faculty member can reserve for students, and they would have to monitor the students to ensure that they stay injury free.”

Mody added, “I think St. John Hall will greatly enhance student life. With only four days into using the new building, it’s already becoming hard for me to remember what Choate was like without it. I’m looking forward to dances, club meetings, and other activities in St. John.”

In terms of both location and activity, St. John Hall is at the core of the Choate community. Lani Uyeno ’19 commented, “I think that the location is great because St. John is attached to the Dining Hall and the Library, so you don’t really need to walk far or go outside if all you want to do is get food and then study.”

Students will shape and dictate how this building is managed; the possibilities for student activities in St. John are much greater than at the previous facility. Mr. Yanelli said, “I think when you are in a perfect setting, you think more about creative opportunities, and you see things differently. [Headmaster] Dr. [Alex] Curtis has an incredible ability to see things that can be and the ability to make them happen. I think he has done an extraordinary job in hearing from students and knowing what it is for them to have a great time.”

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