For about a decade, Marburn Academy has felt like a size 13 foot squeezed into a size 10 shoe.

For about a decade, Marburn Academy has felt like a size 13 foot squeezed into a size 10 shoe.

The private school that specializes in reading issues and other learning difficulties was located for nearly 30 years in a former Columbus elementary school in Northland, even as its student body climbed past capacity. For example, the room where everyone gathered for the morning meeting was the gym five minutes later, which became the cafeteria immediately after that. And it had only one set of restrooms.

"We learned to do a well-choreographed dance," said Marburn Head of School Jamie Williamson. "Little stresses like that make a school day a little harder."

On Jan. 9, after an extended winter break, Marburn's 236 students started back at a brand new 17-acre campus on Johnstown Road, just south of state Route 161 in New Albany. One day earlier, parents and students oohed and aahed as they toured the 64,000-square-foot building of Georgian-style red brick and white trim. It has more than double the space of the old building.

Art teacher Sally Sayre was all smiles Jan. 8 as people investigated her room.

"I love my new art room!" Sayre said, pointing out the natural light, a storage room and even a kiln room. "I don't have to share my classroom with anyone."

Marburn's board chairman, Brian Hicks, said his 11th-grade son has attended the academy since second grade.

"There is a pent-up need for our services in central Ohio," Hicks said. "We've seen a lot of change over the years. When I started on the board (in 2008), there were about 135 students, and now there are around 235."

The project's cost, budgeted at $14 million, was paid for by 458 donors, kicked off by a $1 million donation from L Brands in 2012.

It was an audacious goal, Williamson said.

"If we'd hired a consultant, that person would have told us that that much money couldn't be raised," he said. "We decided not to even ask anybody. We decided just to do."

And so they did.

The hallways for the lower, middle and upper schools have age-appropriate decor: playful fabric patterns for the young children, and a lounge area and vending machines for the older students.

"It's amazing," said ninth-grader Justin Volley, 14. "It's going to help everyone learn. ... It was money well-spent."

He said he also was happy he doesn't have to go outside to a modular classroom.

In the main lobby is a giant aquarium, a soothing part of the old building that parents and students requested. The tank's most popular resident, Puffy the pufferfish, is swimming with new friends.

Many people were in awe of the gym.

Physical education teacher Jen Fitzer worked with Get a Grip Adventures to design climbing walls and rappelling stations that are installed on every wall.

Marburn officials are excited to be in New Albany, and the city is pleased to have it.

"Strong schools are the backbone of every great community and a part of the infrastructure that helps attract great companies to locate here from all over the world," said Jennifer Chrysler, New Albany's director of community development. "The Marburn school is a great fit."

Students come from 26 school districts. It is one of three schools of its kind in Ohio, and about 275 in the U.S.

About 80 percent of Marburn students have reading issues, such as dyslexia, while the other 20 percent have attention or executive-function issues, such as planning and decision making.

Tuition is $25,960 a year for grades 2 to 8 and $27,300 for high school. After state scholarships for disabilities and financial aid from the school, the average family pays less than $12,000.

"Our families come to us not having expected to pay for school," Williamson said. "They come to us out of a feeling of failure, frustration and a lot of setbacks."

Marburn aims to show students they are valued, Williamson said, and that the way they learn is not a negative; it's a difference that can be turned into an asset. Take building resiliency, for example.

"These are kids who have never had a door open for them automatically," he said. "They see a wall and know it's there and that's how it's going to be. They know they have to go over it, or around it, or blow it up."

sgilchrist@dispatch.com

@shangilchrist