YARMOUTH — Peter Mertz painted his office at North Yarmouth Academy just days after becoming headmaster in July 2001.

His early effort hinted at his down-to-earth approach and the work he would do over the next decade, leading the independent school through an unprecedented period of renovation and expansion of its Main Street campus.

The old IGA supermarket next door was transformed into the new Priscilla Savage Middle School in 2003. The nearby Science Center, featuring seven labs and a two-level greenhouse, was built in 2006. And Russell Hall, the school’s oldest building, constructed in 1841 as a dormitory for children of sea captains from around the world, was renovated into a foreign language center in 2009.

Academy trustees and others are taking stock of Mertz’s various contributions to the school as he prepares to leave his post in June to become headmaster of Hampton Roads Academy in Newport News, Va.

“When Peter started 10 years ago, NYA was a very different place,” said Rick Abbondanza, president of the school’s board of trustees. “We talked then about his vision for the campus. It was his drive, determination, cajoling of donors and ability to tell the NYA story that made it happen.”

On Friday during a school picnic, Mertz learned that the $3.3 million Science Center will be named after him. An anonymous major donor decided to name the building after Mertz instead of a family member.

“We had the wonderful opportunity to send our children to NYA during Peter’s tenure and witnessed first-hand his passion for and dedication to everything that NYA stands for: integrity, honesty and character,” the donor said in a prepared statement. “Naming the science building after him is a small way of thanking him.”

Mertz was visibly moved by the gesture.

“This not only has surprised me, it has shocked me,” Mertz said at the picnic. “I am thrilled with this honor, and this is a very, very deep honor. Thank you to all of you here, the students in particular, for how gracious and kind you have been to Mrs. Mertz and me today and through the years.”

As Mertz prepares to leave, the academy is getting ready to welcome his replacement, Brad Choyt, headmaster of the creativity-focused Blue School in New York City. Though Choyt starts July 1, he has been working on the transition to NYA for the past year.

“He’s very in tune with our master plan and he has some very good ideas on how we can sustain the academy into the future,” Abbondanza said.

Patty Bright, incoming president of NYA’s parents association and co-chairwoman of the headmaster’s search committee, said she liked Choyt’s experience with both traditional boarding schools and alternative independent schools.

“He also has that core of integrity that I think is important for any school,” Bright said. “He gets what this school is about.”

As prepared as Choyt is to take the helm at NYA, students and parents said Mertz is a tough act to follow.

Mertz’s easygoing manner, high standards and strong work ethic fostered a campus atmosphere that balanced academic expectations and meaningful relationships among students and staff, they said. They describe Mertz as a good listener who knew students by name, regularly dropped in on club meetings and often engaged kids in conversations about current events.

“People are able to be relaxed around him and he’s easy to talk to,” said Eryn Dioli, class of 2013.

Janet Bowne, former president of NYA’s parents association, said Mertz’s communication abilities stretched far beyond the academy. He led efforts that raised more than $12 million in donations from parents, alumni and community members for the school’s endowment and capital improvements, including the latest wireless classroom technology, a synthetic soccer/lacrosse field and the restoration of the cupola on Academy Hall, which was built in 1847.

“He’s great at making a case for investing in the school,” Bowne said. “He focuses on what’s good for the students and education and the institution. He likes to build relationships. I’m going to miss him terribly.”

Mertz said he’s going to miss the NYA community, too, but it’s time to move on. At 57, he has worked in independent education for 36 years, most recently as assistant headmaster at the Annie Wright School in Tacoma, Wash., from 1995 to 2001.

He heads to Hampton Roads Academy, which has 600 students in kindergarten through high school. NYA has 300 students in grades 5 to 12.

“It’s been a good run here and I’ve loved every minute of it,” Mertz said. “Career-wise, if I didn’t leave now, they’d probably have to carry me out. I also realize there won’t be another place like this, where I can know every single student’s name.”

A native of Albany, N.Y., Mertz and his wife, Lisa, who also works at NYA, have family in North Carolina, so his new job in Virginia will bring them closer together.

Mertz said he plans to return in September for Choyt’s formal installation as headmaster. Plus, their son Pete graduated from NYA in 2008, and the family has come to love Maine over the last decade.

“I’ll always maintain ties with NYA,” Mertz said. “It’s my school and it’s my son’s school.”

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: [email protected]