As the oldest independent, college preparatory school in New Jersey, RPS represented the joint aspirations of Dutch and English colonists and it has sustained this remarkable tradition of multiculturalism throughout its history. This diversity is a strength celebrated at RPS.
There was quite a competition between Newark and New Brunswick during the 1760's to obtain a charter for the first college in the colony. Ultimately, New Brunswick succeeded in chartering Queen's College and Queen's College Grammar School (Rutgers Prep) because only here did both the Anglican and Dutch Reformed congregations join together in their petition to the crown. As advertised on August 15, 1768, the first master to give instruction here was Caleb Cooper of Nassau Hall (Princeton).
A boys' boarding school throughout most of its history, RPS has strong international connections, especially with Japan. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the first Japanese students to come to America studied at the prep school before attending Rutgers University and hundreds would follow them by the turn of the twentieth century.
During the Progressive Era, Rutgers Preparatory School was an innovator, being among the first schools in the nation to institute laboratory sciences, extracurricular activities, student publications and community service. This leadership was also reflected in an expansion of the curriculum and the inclusion of female students from 1892 through the 1920's. It was during this period that poet A. Joyce Kilmer '04 attended the school.
1952 was a pivotal year during which the school ended its boarding program, admitted women to the high school and eliminated the football team. When Rutgers University became the state university in the 1950's, the University Board of Trustees decided to divest itself of the preparatory school. Between 1958 and 1962 RPS re-established itself as an independent school, taking its present form on the Somerset campus. The new Board of Trustees, lead by Headmaster David Heinlein, recreated the school with the support of current parents by purchasing the Wells Estate.
The result of this purchase is the current campus, which is located on a 38-acre parcel situated along the historic D&R canal in Somerset NJ. Since the move, the campus building space has grown from 15,200 sq. ft. to the current 162,841 gross square feet. The structure of greatest historic interest is a 12,000 sq. ft. Dutch colonial farmhouse, the Elm Farm. It stands today as it was constructed in 1850, as a 10,000 sq. ft. addition to an existing 2,000 sq. ft. farmhouse, circa 1750. In addition to the main house, a 3,200 sq. ft. Carriage House was built at the top of the hill in 1850.
The development of the property came after Rutgers Prep purchased the property from Julia Wells whose use of the estate had been limited to two months each year for summer relaxation from her life in New York City. In 1956, renovations of the Elm Farm building and Carriage House made these spaces available to the Lower School program which moved to the Campus in September of 1957. At the same time, an 11,000 sq. ft. temporary research facility was constructed and leased to Colgate Palmolive Company. This building would serve as the Colgate base of operations until the company's permanent facility in Piscataway was completed six years later. Rutgers Prep took over the facility in 1963 and proceeded with the construction of the two story, 10,000-sq. ft. Baldwin addition, completed in 1963. The new space allowed the Upper School program to move to the campus for the September of 1964 school year. This completed the separation with the New Brunswick campus. The first floor of the Carriage House served as the School's 1,600 sq. ft. gym, and the second story of the structure served as caretaker residences until 1968.
In 1968, 26,000 sq. ft. of physical education program space was created with the construction of the Field House. In 1970, another 4,800 sq. ft. was made available to the elementary program with the construction of the Annex, which was designed to support the Kindergarten and first grade programs.
Up until 1974, RPS was a two-division institution. The construction of the 300-wing addition to the Baldwin wing added 12,000 sq. ft. of academic program space that allowed for the creation of a Middle School division.
Between 1978 and 1983, the School converted from well water and septic to city water and city sewers.
In 1982, the School contracted the New Brunswick architectural firm of Gatarz & Venezia to create a master plan for Rutgers Prep. With the master plan completed, priorities were identified. First, there was to be the construction of a new Lower School, to be followed by the construction of a new Upper School, and eventually a Performing Arts/Dining Commons facility.
On November 3, 1983, one week before the newly installed water distribution system was to be activated, at 4:10 AM, the Rutgers Prep community was informed that local fire fighters were engaged in fighting a three-alarm fire on the Rutgers Prep campus. After investigation, the cause of that fire was traced to a faulty BX electrical cable serving a single light bulb in a custodial closet. The Colgate wing was a total loss. The Baldwin wing suffered heat and smoke damage. The 300 Middle School wing had 12,000-sq. ft. of smoke damage.
Due to the fire, priorities changed. The design of a 35,000 sq. ft. replacement Upper School facility was commissioned. That program operated out of eleven trailers until the opening of the new 35,000 sq. ft. facility in December of 1985.
By 1990, the Carriage House had outlived its usefulness as the Art Studio program space and was replaced with the construction of the 7,200 sq. ft. Fine Arts Facility. This facility is a mixed-use facility, as was the Carriage House, and a 3,600 sq. ft. space serves the Visual Arts program needs. The 3,600 sq. ft. second level provides space for three residential units.
In 1996, a design concept was offered that addressed the first five of six recommendations of the most recent Middle States Evaluation for Rutgers Prep. The 12,000 sq. ft. of new construction and 14,000 sq. ft. of renovation allowed for many program improvements which included a new all-division library, a second gym, new housing for the Lower School program, a core cluster of computer science suites, and an after school program space. The School had, however, not addressed the sixth recommendation of the Middle States report: the growing needs of the music program.
With very limited resources, the School embarked on the first of two unique construction projects. 2001 saw the completion of an in-house managed and constructed, 9,600 sq. ft. music facility.
Similarly, 2003 saw the addition of a 6,600 sq. ft. math-science wing to the Middle School. The Middle School project was constructed on the site of the 1983 fire.
A 5.6 acre property on the School's northern border became available in 2000. The acquisition of the 1401 property permitted the design of a site plan which addressed not only building needs but also provided safer entry to and exit from the campus, additional parking, and included the addition of a third athletic field space. This plan would require the demolition of the Carriage House.
A revised site plan document was completed in 2002, and it received final agency approvals in 2008. This work was completed in Spring of 2009 and marked the most extensive site development in the history of the Somerset campus. The site development included a new traffic flow and significantly increased parking spaces. In addition, in preparation for future construction projects, the site development included additional detention basins, the relocation of our tennis courts, and efforts to improve the various utility systems on campus.
On the heels of the site development, the plan was to construct a building that would include a Theater, Art Gallery, Dining Commons and several classrooms. The economic downturn required the Board of Trustees and administration to re-evaluate the plan to construct this 42,000 sq. ft. Theater/Dining/Classroom facility. The re-evaluation has taken form in a recently completed 25,685 ft. sq. two story structure. As of September 2011, the first floor Dining Commons provides food service to all students from Grades 1-12, as well as faculty and staff, and is home to the new School Store. The unfinished second floor shell is scheduled to open as the Learning Commons in September 2012 with ten new classrooms. The Theater continues to be a goal, and the design for that facility is completed and awaits funding.
While the development of the campus is significant, the focus has always been on the students, and each new building has been designed as a structure in support of our students throughout the full range of grades.
Rutgers Prep typically enrolled about one hundred students in the high school in the early 1950's, and twenty-eight seniors made up the graduating class of 1962. Entering the 21st Century the School had grown to about seven hundred students with a graduating class of over seventy in 2009 and over 90 in 2012. While the student body has increased in size, the climate of our community continues to focus on participation, involvement and access.
The students, alumni, faculty, parents and past parents are proud of people who participate in our community, but this pride is wrapped in a climate that is unpretentious. Since 1766, we have prepared students for college and lives beyond college, and it is a challenge we humbly, yet enthusiastically, accept.