Michael Waelz – The Pingry School
In 1861, Reverend John Francis Pingry started The Pingry School for boys. By the 1970s, the school became co-educational and remained competitive; today, its , or high school, has an acceptance rate of around 17 percent.
In addition to introducing coeducation, the New Jersey-based preparatory school has increased its diversity, selectiveness and education standards. The K-12 school has three campuses in Short Hills, Basking Ridge and, most recently, Pottersville.
Since Director of Facilities Michael Waelz became part of Pingry in 2007, he and his team have been concentrating on transforming the day school into “a 21st century learning mecca.” He’s especially proud of their accomplishments and upgrades since he stepped into his current role in 2016 and particularly in the past five years.
“We’ve completed at least one significant project every year since 2017—not to mention the plethora of smaller tasks we handle on a daily basis—and we’ve been continuing that focus and commitment into 2023,” he tells Blueprint in July 2023.
As part of Pingry’s sustainability initiatives, in 2017, Waelz and his team installed synthetic turf on the football field at one of campuses. This eliminated water usage and also significantly reduced the need for maintenance, including the use of lawn mowers and the gas needed to run them.
That same year, he and his team also rebuilt the tennis court and track. The largest project of 2017, however, occurred in January when they completed construction of and opened the doors to the new 48,000-square-foot Miller A. Bugliari ‘52 Athletics Center. It houses a 5,000-square-foot fitness center, a 20,000-square-foot gymnasium and eight squash courts.
“The Bugliari center was particularly enjoyable because of the different components, like choosing and installing the appropriate flooring materials for various areas,” Waelz says. “I also enjoyed playing squash every morning up until COVID hit.”
A constellation of projects
According to Waelz, he and his team often tackle various projects at once, including renovations and maintenance. Using his years of experience and gauging the needs of students in conjunction with other leadership at Pingry, he ensures he and his team are concentrating their time and energy where most needed.
In 2018, the replacement of outdated equipment and tables in the physics lab took precedence.
The next year, he and others noticed the Middle School’s athletics were suffering due to bouts of heavy rain, cutting the season short for many teams. With the Basking Ridge campus being home to the Middle and Upper Schools, the high school sports teams would get first priority if only one field was functional.
So, Waelz and his team resodded one of the fields and installed synthetic turf on the other one. This opened up more scheduling opportunities for the middle schoolers because the synthetic turf could handle extensive amounts of rain through the night and still function perfectly for a match in the morning.
This project also made him realize the elementary school, which Pingry terms Lower School, was having a similar problem of losing much of the season to inclement weather. He was part of the decision making for this team effort leading to the 2021 installation of synthetic turf at the Short Hills campus.
“We were really happy to find a way to extend the season for all our athletes, especially the younger ones,” Waelz says.
A global pandemic, a library and camps
In 2020, Waelz, his team and others at Pingry faced the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, which they balanced with Pingry’s goal of continuing to accelerate its long-term planning.
In 2021, it purchased a third campus in Pottersville, which will be open to all students, K-12. Waelz and his team spent 2021 and 2022 renovating the campus, particularly the on-site housing for faculty and staff. He explains the school wanted to maintain and recruit top faculty and staff and was able to make immediate use of the on-campus housing, offered at a reduced rate. This, he says, made it easier for faculty and staff to accept and remain in positions here.
“We’re not rushing to decide what we do with the rest of the campus,” he says.
This third location with 83 acres of land has become home to experiential education and retreats. According to Waelz, it’s allowed Pingry to have a year-round campus and to increase its programming. Thus far, it’s had summer camps and overnight programs made possible through its boarding bedrooms. It also has a ropes course that’s used for team building.
As excited as Waelz is about the potential for Pottersville, he equally enjoyed another project beginning in June 2023: the $1.1 million renovation of the Short Hills campus library, which hadn’t been updated since 2000.
Over the course of this summer, he and his team—and outside vendors and contractors when needed—gutted the entire 2,600-square-foot space. They then installed new carpeting, ceilings, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, and new furniture. They also added shorter bookcases on wheels and reduced the overall number of books through going digital.
“We made it more welcoming to students and more flexible for staff in how they use the space since it’s no longer jammed with bookshelves,” Waelz says.
Projects like these continue to be a priority for Waelz and his supervisors. They also allow him to bring in his years of expertise in project management.
“We’re always looking at ways to adapt and update the campuses and the facilities to meet the ever-changing needs of students, faculty and staff,” Waelz says. “We’re not afraid of being innovative and taking chances or a completely new approach if that’s what leads to the best experience for all involved.”
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. VII 2023 Edition here.
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