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New basketball court at The Jack Jones '22 Oasis is one of newest built spaces.
New basketball court at The Jack Jones ’22 Oasis.

A big part of delivering on the Beacon Promise is ensuring the College’s built spaces are matched to its mission of physical wellness, mental health, worthy work, and abundant life for students with learning differences.

Beacon boasts an operations team with more than 30 years of experience focused specifically on the needs of neurodiverse students. Beacon’s chief operating officer, Dr. Brent Betit, was an executive at the King Salman Center for Disability Research in Saudi Arabia and was head of school at The Fletcher School, a Charlotte, North Carolina college preparatory school for students with learning differences, before joining Beacon in 2021.

Betit has extensive experience in designing purpose-built spaces for students who require accommodation. Delivering a bespoke experience in a repurposed environment, however, can be a challenge. He spoke with Lighting the Path about some of Beacon’s current and recently completed construction projects.

“We have been on a near-continuous renovation and repair schedule since I arrived more than two years ago,” Betit said. “But the facilities team has maintained its operations schedule and also risen to the challenge of managing multiple, simultaneous renovations.”

Rising to the challenge means more than meeting building codes. Beacon’s mission requires environmental accommodations, including muted color schemes, acoustic dampening and clerestory windows to foster a welcoming, supportive, and comfortable living and learning environment, Betit said. In that same vein, he says, it is also important for the school to provide a wide range of athletic opportunities, to help students maintain high endorphin levels for optimal focus and self-discipline.

“Perhaps the most unusual but fun project we completed this year is the Jack Jones ’22 Oasis,” he said. “The Oasis is a student/community activities gathering place that is picture-perfect in beauty and amenities. It includes a pavilion; gazebo; hurricane-screened pool; firepit; basketball, beach volleyball, and bocce courts; and a Wi-Fi array capable of 3,000 simultaneous connections.”

The Jack Jones ’22 Oasis activates and rejuvenates a smaller, outdated recreational area at the heart of Beacon’s 270-bed residential village. The new pool and surrounding area will accommodate up to 60 students simultaneously, a big improvement over the shopworn, and low-capacity amenities it replaces.

The area has been beautifully landscaped, with brick walkways, sitting areas, and appealing water features. The total project cost of $275,000 was covered through the generosity of Beacon’s capital campaign supporters.

Although a big part of building projects at Beacon involves dampening unwanted sound, sometimes success means optimizing acoustics. Such was the case with the almost completed renovation of the theater in the Palace Building. The newly refurbished facility features a high-intensity projector, sound system, huge projection screen, audio mixers, microphones, and multi-colored stage lighting. This new resource will provide extraordinary curricular opportunities, as well as co-curricular activities including community outreach and advancement. The information technology team supervised system installation and there has already been significant interest from within the community in reserving the space.

Not all campus building improvements have been student-facing. Last year, for example, several administrative departments, including advancement, finance and accounting, facilities management, and dining services, moved out of an outdated facility in downtown Leesburg. Since then, staffers have either worked from home or in temporary quarters at the Palace Building. This summer, the operations team completed work on a new Operations Center at 209 2nd Street, providing a state-of-the-art home worthy of the demanding work performed by these critical teams.

The recently completed projects are just the beginning. The biggest project on the horizon, of course, is the much-anticipated Intramural & Fitness Center. As previously reported, the $8.5 million, 28,000-square-foot Intramural & Fitness Center is critical to enhancing students’ physical wellness and quality of life. While physical activity is important for all, it is especially important for Beacon College’s neurodivergent student population.

For students with learning differences, fitness routines, exercise and participation in group sports are critical for fostering and promoting self-confidence, focus, mental health, discipline, and social development. Over 70 percent of Beacon College students participate regularly in fitness, intramural, recreation, and competitive athletic programming.

With space to accommodate up to 1,000 people, the Intramural & Fitness Center will also become a place for Beacon students and families to celebrate commencement, and mark other milestones.

Betit’s team is also finishing off two different anthrozoology projects. They completed the first phase over the summer break and anticipate finishing phase two during the holiday break in December and January.

“We are always in motion,” he said. “We strive to maintain the most comfortable, supportive, and familiar home for our students as possible. From unique features such as the Center for Student Success, to the Oasis, to an Intramural Building in planning, to a new Dining Commons, and a theater about to open, we work hard to provide a diverse array of facilities to support an equally diverse array of student opportunities and activities, while also ensuring that the beauty of our grounds (what some people call “curb appeal”) remains superlative.”

With enrollment now over 500 full-time students, Beacon’s 26-acre campus is constantly growing and adapting to deliver on the Beacon Promise of physical and mental health, worthy work, and abundant life. The operations team takes pride in being a “silent partner” in this progress, making sure students have what they need to succeed.