Columbus Academy started the new school year Aug. 20 with its largest freshmen class in history, as well as various campus improvements.

Columbus Academy started the new school year Aug. 20 with its largest freshmen class in history, as well as various campus improvements.

School communication director Bob Lee said 98 freshmen make up the largest class in the school's history.

Academy's 1,080 students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12 represent 52 different ZIP codes in and around central Ohio, Lee said.

The independent college-preparatory school is at 4300 Cherry Bottom Road in Gahanna.

"We are thrilled about the start of the 104th school year at Columbus Academy," said Melissa Soderberg, head of school.

Soderberg mentioned improvements to the 231-acre campus through a new Outdoor Learning Center, a new low-ropes course, new turf fields, new playgrounds and an updated middle school.

The new 1,200-square-foot Outdoor Learning Center has a roughhewn interior for outdoor and indoor labs, art projects, writing workshops, practical math and advisory meetings. It also is equipped with running water, a patio and a fire ring. The center is in the woods north of campus, near a story-time campfire ring used regularly by the lower school.

Soderberg said the the school also has invested in seven elements at three sites near the learning center, behind the stadium and east of Academy Hall. The sites feature obstacles to challenge groups and individuals to work together to accomplish a task. They will be used by all ages to promote development of 21st-century skills: collaboration, critical thinking, communication and creativity.

The academy also has two new turf fields: Hondros Field in the stadium and a new field just beyond the varsity field-hockey field.

Soderberg said the fields have state-of-the-art athletic surfaces and are durable playing fields that easily drain water and provide clean spaces for all kinds of activities.

Between Campus Drive and the stadium, she said, is a new middle school playground.

Soderberg said students chose the playground elements, and it's designed to hold the attention and physical demand of 10- to 14-year-olds.

She said it provides the students with a great space of their own, and it solves scheduling issues of hurried lunch and overused play spaces around the school.

All of the projects are made possible through gifts to the school's New Quest capital campaign, Soderberg said.

The academy also has hired 15 new faculty and staff members: diversity fellow Noel Ang, second-grade associate Kim Clegg, upper school English teacher Aline Giroux, lower school Children's After School Experience assistant Shoshanna Gross, lower school CASE assistant Su Jarvis, upper school art teacher Brian Kellett, lower school CASE lead Kathy Mendenhall, kindergarten teacher Krystal Mitchell, second-grade associate Erica Porter, annual giving coordinator Bryane Roberts, data-resources coordinator Cathy Sarrocco, upper school science teacher Alyssa Scott, middle school CASE lead Maryanne Street, middle school CASE lead Michelle Whited and third-grade associate Allie Wood.