When Harvey G. Woodward—an eccentric heir to a sizable iron fortune—envisioned a new boys school for Birmingham, Alabama, in the 1930s, he sought to create an educational institution that was on a par with its Yankee counterparts, with a progressive agenda that embraced nature and shunned two of the South’s most sacred pursuits: church and football. “The basic idea of the school is to make [a] boy of sound mind and body,” Woodward noted in his will. “It is self-evident that the best superstructure on a weak foundation must eventually show the poor foundation.”
As hoped, Woodward’s school, called Indian Springs, has provided its students with sturdy academic underpinnings: since opening in 1952 (Woodward’s estate was mired in court for decades), it has produced a long roster of accomplished alumni and gained a reputation for its rigorous programming. But in recent years, the campus’s aging cinderblock classrooms and deteriorating infrastructure were hindering it from staying on course. “Nothing about the physical campus suggested that something exceptional or worth the private school price was happening here,” says Claire Cassady, the school’s director of admissions.