CHAMPAIGN — In 20 years, Countryside School has gone from being a group of parents' dream, to having a building that now features a full-size gym and performance space.
The school this weekend is hosting a grand opening of its new addition, as well as a celebration of its 20th anniversary.
It's scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday at Countryside School, 4201 W. Kirby Ave., C.
Sunday's festivities will feature a ribbon cutting for the new addition, a reception and tours of the school.
The celebration falls on the actual 20th anniversary of Countryside's first day of school, said Kristin Feddersen, the school's communication director.
The new addition is a testament to how the school has grown, said Countryside Head of School Cathie Webber.
"This addition and anniversary mark how much the school has grown in such a short time," Webber said. "Twenty years ago, we were a 12-student school in a storefront, and now we are more than 12 times that size with a full gym and performing arts center."
Today's school is at capacity with 150 students.
Every few years, those who run and volunteer at the school do something to enhance it, she said, "and the gym and performing arts center is the next step in providing better opportunities for the arts, performance and athletics to our students."
Countryside School started with a dream by a group of parents and a dozen students meeting in a storefront in what is now Pet Supplies Plus in southwest Champaign.
The parents had a special interest in both gifted and talented education and a project-based approach to teaching kids.
The school grew over the next couple of years, and it soon was occupying three spaces in that area at the same time.
After losing a lease on one of those locations, those who ran the school looked all over to find a building that would suit the school's needs. They found a parcel in west Champaign suitable for a church or school, and decided to build there.
They started fundraising in May 1996, in time to break ground the next October, and moved into the building in 1997.
Judy Kaplan, who is now admissions director at Countryside, was involved in the school's first steering committee.
The first building didn't have any windows, save for the front of the store, but it had 17-foot ceilings.
"You just had to overlook the site because the teaching was fantastic," Kaplan said.
When it came time for Countryside to create its own building, the teachers requested the same high ceilings, because it allowed their students to make huge, tall projects. They also requested lots of windows, Kaplan said.
Kaplan said several of the founding parents had children in preschool and felt like they wanted something different from what public schools offered at the time.
One of those parents was an accountant, and he set the school on firm financial footing, Kaplan said, to make sure tuition actually covered the school's operating costs, rather than relying on other, unreliable funding, she said.
Fedderson said Countryside doesn't use any state or federal funding, and tuition still pays the school's entire operating budget.
The gym and performing arts center is the school's third addition: It added office space and a bathroom for adults in 2001 and a larger addition with more classrooms to accommodate middle school students in 2005.
The school needed to raise $3 million for the addition; so far, it has raised about $2.3 million, Feddersen said.
The new gym and adjacent stage has a system of curtains that surround a specific space for an audience, to improve acoustics. She said several other elements of its design are intended to help with acoustics, as well. The addition also includes office space, dressing rooms for girls and boys and a makeup room.
"This is just incredible," Kaplan said, of the school and its most recent addition. "When I think back to 20 years ago, I couldn't imagine this."