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BY SAM SPOKONY | After years of frustration for parents and teachers, Millennium High School will finally be able provide its students with more adequate space for physical education.
NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has allocated $400,000 to Millennium to replace old exercise equipment and undertake a full-scale renovation of the school’s auditorium, which will now function as a better alternative to an actual gymnasium the school has been fighting for.
“We’re thrilled about it,” said Angela Benfield, Millennium’s parent coordinator. “The upgrades were so desperately needed, since the equipment is all 10 years old and the auditorium is practically falling apart.”
Approximately $50,000 of the funding will be spent on new equipment such as treadmills and exercise bikes; $250,000 will finance new hardwood flooring, wall padding and other structural renovations; and $100,000 will go toward replacing the auditorium’s audiovisual system with new projectors, microphones and amplifiers.
Millennium, a public school located at 75 Broad St., was founded in 2002 and has never had a dedicated physical education space apart from its multi-purpose auditorium.
In 2008, Silver had set aside $750,000 in state funds towards a gymnasium for the school — a project for which it had already amassed a total of $2.5 million — but that plan was rejected by the city Department of Education because of budget constraints.
When Millennium tried to use part of a $350,000 allocation from the City Council — also received in 2008 — to replace its exercise equipment, that request was killed last year by the School Construction Authority (S.C.A.) based on a technicality. According to Benfield, the S.C.A. told the high school that only money coming from the state government or private donors could be used to buy movable equipment, which in this case referred specifically to the exercise machines.
A representative of the S.C.A. did not return a request for comment.
So Millennium turned back to Silver’s office for help. In a letter dated May 8 of this year, the school’s Parents’ Association and Principal Robert Rhodes asked for $400,000 of the original $750,000 Silver had set aside in 2008, in order to replace the exercise equipment and turn the Millennium auditorium into a working physical education facility. The Assembly Speaker quickly complied.
“We wanted a separate gym, and it was too bad that couldn’t happen,” said Silver, “but it’s nice to finally provide the funding necessary for these students to at least have a proper place for physical education.”
Silver added that, although he wasn’t sure when the renovations would begin, he hoped the project would be complete in eight months’ time. He also said there are no current plans for the remaining $350,000 left over from his initial 2008 allocation to the high school.
Millennium’s new exercise equipment and improved physical education space will also come on the heels of the implementation of a new mandate by the D.O.E., which requires city schools to increase each student’s number of weekly gym classes from two to three starting next year.
Colleen Simms, a physical education teacher at Millennium, said that renovations to the current auditorium will play a vital role in allowing the school’s facilities to handle the extra gym classes.
“It’s such a limited space right now,” said Simms. “We already have about 35 students in each class, and we really needed something that could better handle the activities.”
She added, “I’m just tired of knocking out the ceiling tiles whenever we play sports inside.”
Britt Densmore, whose 16-year-old son attends Millennium, had been so disappointed with the city’s inability to provide a solution to the school’s shortage of exercise space that he began to assume nothing would ever be done.
“I think the community had largely given up on the idea of having a better facility for phys ed, after all we’d been through,” said Densmore. “So even though we still won’t have a real gym, we’re really delighted that Speaker Silver’s office came through for us here.”
But behind the success of gaining more adequate space from gym classes, another major problem for the high school’s athletics still exists.
Millennium’s girls’ soccer team, which is now only a club, is attempting to gain legitimate varsity status for next year. But the team has been unable to receive accreditation from the NYC Public Schools Athletic League (P.S.A.L.) because it lacks a home field. This places the school in a dilemma, according to Benfield, because they now find it virtually impossible to secure a permit for a field — principally because their team does not already have P.S.A.L. certification.
The Millennium girls’ soccer team currently practices on fields at Prospect Park in Brooklyn.
Mark Costello, chair of the Community Board 1’s sports field task force, said that in his experience, gaining P.S.A.L. accreditation can be unnecessarily difficult for high schools in need of help, making cases such as Millennium’s girls’ soccer team’s search for a Downtown home field all the more complicated by the strictness of the P.S.A.L.’s rules.
“The bureaucracy of the P.S.A.L. is really challenging to deal with,” said Costello, “but another basic issue we’re dealing with is field space. There isn’t enough of it [in the Downtown area].”