The tour was led however by Mr Bassam Abushakra, the Regional Director of Esol Education, the company that owns Dunecrest American School.
As we entered through the main entrance on the left we could immediately see the main building.
Built on a plot size of 40,000 square meters, phase one of the construction will see almost everything built by July. Phase two is mainly for additional classes and labs.
The American school will start with a capacity of 1200 students and by the end of phase two will be able to host 1550 pupils. "We want all our services like the gym, pool, library and sporting facilities to be ready in the first phase itself, explained Mr Abushakra. "We are trying to maximize the construction for this September start.”
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com was taken inside the building. The first thing that struck us was the size of the hallways which are 6 meters wide and lead to clusters of classrooms with break out areas.
We saw four KG classrooms with ample sunlight and French windows overlooking the outdoor play area. The break out area in the cluster is also quite substantial. “Pedagogy has changed over the years and we wanted to have flexibility at the school, explained Mr Abushakra. "The cluster areas are more like gathering spaces for students to do their projects and interact".
Esol Education owns and runs a number of American schools in the region – in Egypt, Labanon, Cyprus and here in the UAE operates the Universal American School in Dubai and American International School in Abu Dhabi.
With experience in building and running schools, according to Esol's Regional Director the group had a clear design philosophy from day one. “We have built three schools in the UAE and you can see the evolution of architecture and classroom design. Our philosophy for Dunecrest was for the school to be open, filled with abundant natural light, integrated, be flexible and offer a lot of creative, maker spaces.
"A lot of the campus areas can be seen from classes, cafeteria, the gym and other parts of the school.”
We could see the natural light throughout the school with a number of sky light areas including hallways and parents space and French windows in classrooms.
The classrooms are built with flexible walls to allow modifications at any given point.
Also evident is the integration of three buildings and how they are cleverly connected with walkways and bridges.
Our next stop was the gym. We were impressed by the sheer size of the space. According to Mr Dellbrugge:
“The gym is the size of two full basketball courts with a height of almost two floors. The glass paneling on one side is where the two libraries are – one for elementary and the other for secondary on the second floor, both overlook the gym. On the other side is a coach and commentary box, with some benches and a viewing area.”
From the gym, one can see the cafeteria and vice-a-versa. Next to the gym is a multi-purpose hall for indoor sports and is one third the size of the gym.
Outside the main buildings is a half Olympic size or 25 meters pool. There’s only one pool for both primary and secondary.
Next to the pool is a 400 meters track and a full sized soccer pitch. There are also additional locker rooms and a café in this area.
The sports area also includes an outdoor tennis court. The multipurpose hall and gym can also house an indoor court.
“We want to be big on sports and want our students to get a lot of exposure in all kinds of sporting activities," the Founding Principal told us as we toured facilities being constructed at frenetic pace. "For this reason we want everything to be built and ready in the first phase."
The first floor of the school building has a library, which will also be a tech zone. There are four art labs, two STEAM rooms, a choir room, a band room and a theatre/drama room.
We could see how spacious each of the specialist rooms and the classrooms are with a lot of natural light. “We have built the gym, band rooms and all the specialist areas on one side for the sound to be contained in one area of the building," Mr Dellbrugge explained,
The tiles used will also be different in each zone and incorporate one of the colours of the school logo.
There are four entrances to the school with ample parking for the buses at the back and staff and parents parking. “We have a lot of parking provision in the front, back and the side of the building. It’s all over ground. Plus we also have a space of 20 meters to play around with,” Esol's Regional Director told us.
Our last stop was the main entrance of the building which looks like it will be a really impressive opening into the school with glass panels of 2 floors and a long hallway between the gym and the cafeteria, which will also be a parents space. The area has a long skylight. Even at this early stage it has a very happy feel.
There will be four form entries for the first year, when the school opens from Pre-K to Grade 10 in September 2018. "Teacher recruitment is complete. We have hired 47 teachers to start with. Most of the teachers have come from our network of school, myself included", Mr Dellbrugge told us. "The vast majority of our teachers are American," he added.
The school will be an American curriculum school, with the IB Diploma programme offered to students in their final two years.
According to Esol's Director of Education, the school has already applied to be able to offer the IB Diploma.
“We are already a pre candidate for the IBDP programme. In our second year we’ll be opening grade 11 and the third year will be an all through school. In the second year we will be offering the IB DP.”
Dunecrest has an initial goal of between 200 to 250 students for September 2018, realistic given the premium fee structure. The school is offering a founders discount that ranges from 9% to 20% depending upon the grade, for the first three years of operation.
The location, says Mr Abushakra will be an advantage, "full of families", once the Living Legends development is complete. The school aims to be a community school, even if it attracts students from further afield.
We were very impressed by the early look and feel of the site, and as the build moves closer towards completion, would have no hesitation in recommending parents go and see Dunecrest for themselves. We thoroughly enjoyed the tour, and think the spaciousness and intelligent design touches lend considerably promise to Dubai's newest US and IB school.