Volume 18, Number 1 | MAY 27 —JUNE 2, 2005, 2005

Claremont Prep will be Lower Manhattan’s only non-religious private school
Wall St. private school gets ready for Sept. opening

Downtown Express photo by Jennifer Weisbord
Shari D. Silvrestein, the head of Claremont Preparatory School, in what will be the school’s admission conference room. Wood panels are being restored from the days when the building at 41 Broad St. was a bank.

By Ronda Kaysen

The New York Stock Exchange is getting a new neighbor, actually it’s getting 1,000 of them and most of them are under four feet tall.

Claremont Preparatory School, a new K-8, set up shop inside the Bank of America International Building on Broad St. and will open its doors to students this fall.

“People don’t live across from the Stock Exchange! But they do,” said Shari D. Silverstein, the school’s chief administrator, sitting in her office one recent afternoon.

Claremont is the first nonsectarian private school below Canal St. and the first independent ongoing school to open in Manhattan in the last 50 years. It expects to fill the 102,000 sq. ft. building with 1000 students by 2007. But for its inaugural school year, which begins on Sept. 7, it will start with 50 kids (kindergarten, first, second, fifth and sixth grades), significantly lower than the 300 students the school anticipated last summer.

“Mostly it was our choice,” explained Michael C. Koffler, chief executive of Metropolitan Preschools, Inc., Claremont’s parent company, of the low first-year class size. “We decided to have a conservative program.” He added that the school is anticipating 400 students for the 2006 school year and expects to be at full capacity by 2008.

Much of the building is still under construction and Silverstein declined to give a Downtown Express reporter a tour of the building, with the exception of a brief peak inside the auditorium, which is also under construction. A parent from London who was visiting the school on the same afternoon requested a tour as well. Silverstein told her that parents could tour the building at an upcoming open house on June 2.

For now, the building’s entrance is hidden behind plywood, with a security guard posted beneath the scaffolding. Construction will be complete in time for a Sept. 6 ribbon cutting ceremony, Silverstein assured.

Tuition for Claremont is $25,800 a year, for all grades.

In 2004, Metropolitan signed a 20-year lease on 41 Broad St., with options to renew for another 20 years. The state Empire State Development Corporation and the city Economic Development Corporation will provide the school with a $500,000 grant, so long as it creates 221 jobs by 2007. The rest of the school’s funding will come from Metropolitan. The first year’s rent will be $2.5 million.

Built in 1929 by Cross & Cross Architects, 41 Broad St. has had a number of owners, including the Stock Exchange, which is directly across the street. But for the past 10 years, the building stood empty, falling into disrepair.

Community Board 1 had eyed the 12-story epistle at one point, considering it for the site of a new public pre-K-8, but Metropolitan threw its hat in first. (C.B. 1 did eventually get a site for the public school, at a new 75-story tower slated for Beekman St.)

Jack Coogan of OCV Architects of Manhattan is steering the $25 million gut renovation, which is partially financed by the building’s owners, Walwilhal Associates, an affiliate of Garden Commercial Properties.

The grand banking hall on the ground level boasts gilded columns and a Griffith Baily Coal mural, “A Pageantry of the History of Commerce by Sea, painted the year the building was built, shortly before the 1929 stock market crash. Last week, scaffolding obstructed the murals, and the landmark room was dark despite the 29-ft. vaulted ceilings. Construction workers toiled about, transforming the darkened space into an auditorium and performance hall for the students. The school will also have a 25-meter swimming pool, a regulation size gym, a darkroom, a roof-deck garden and a mahogany library.

“Most schools go into a building that already exists,” said Silverstein, whose title is head of school. “Here, we got to gut the whole thing.”

The Financial District has experienced an explosion of residential development in recent years – and much of it geared toward the upscale market. For parents looking to send their children to private school in Manhattan, the nearest option is Village Community School on W. 10th St.

“Clearly there’s a need in the community for private schools, there really aren’t any Downtown,” said Paul Hovitz, chairperson of Community Board 1’s youth committee. “People spend a lot of money to transport their kids to private schools Uptown.”

Although the school is located in the heart of the neighborhood, only eight of the incoming students hail from below Canal St. Silverstein sees that as a strength, not a weakness for a school that she envisions will be comprised of a diverse group of children from around the city and the world.

“We don’t expect to be solely a Downtown school,” she said, noting that many Claremont parents work Downtown. “Downtown families bus their kids to Riverdale. Upper East Side families send their kids to Brooklyn.”

Although the Financial District is increasingly residential — The Exchange, next door at 25 Broad St., is a residential conversion, along with 23 Wall St., a Philippe Starck-designed condo conversion — drawing parents to the school has been a challenge for Claremont. “Even though Downtown is growing, it takes a long time,” said Silverstein. “There’s that person who just doesn’t know that a residential neighborhood is here.”

And then there are the security concerns. Part of Broad St. has been closed to traffic since 9/11 — the private school buses will drop students off around the corner on Beaver St. — to protect the Stock Exchange. But Silverstein and Koffler are not concerned.

“We always had concern about safety for kids — it’s the first concern in terms of any children in any building — as far as security, that’s not a concern. The Police Department works very closely with us,” said Koffler. “The only issue with any of those folks is that it might be a little more cumbersome to ride [in] a car.”

The school has taken precautions. It has a security guard at the entrance, all faculty and staff will wear ID badges and there will be 42 cameras posted throughout the building.

But the perks of having a school plopped in the center of the country’s third largest business district are many. “The resources are incredible,” said Silverstein, who speaks at a clipped pace and grins with marked enthusiasm when she speaks of the school she launched. “The idea is to bring the city into the classroom and the classroom into the city.” Silverstein hopes to invite local businesspeople to speak to the students about their work and to organize frequent fieldtrips to nearby offices and historic sites. “We’d love the students to see what a judge actually does.”

Metropolitan operates seven nursery and pre-schools — mainly for children with special needs — throughout the city. Claremont is the organization’s first foray into the realm of primary and middle school education. “It was a vertical progression,” said Koffler. A private high school for Downtown is also in the works, Koffler added. He expects it to open in 2008. Plans for a Downtown pre-K are less certain, however. If he does launch one, it would most likely be small.

Metropolitan is notably absent from Claremont’s literature, a decision that was intentional, said Silverstein, who worried parents might confuse the school with other Metropolitan programs and think it was geared toward children with special needs, which it is not.

A dress code will be enforced at the academically rigorous school, and students will be expected to wear Lands End Company clothing, selecting their uniforms from the company’s catalog. According to the school’s brochure, Claremont has partnered with Lands End to provide the uniform. “It’s a question of delivery. They have a pain free user system,” he said. “We don’t have any interest in the uniforms.” Claremont does receive a percentage of the profits from the sale of the uniform. The money is used for the school’s scholarship program, said Silverstein.

Although Downtown’s public schools are increasingly overcrowded, they are considered among the finest in the city. One Downtown parent expressed concern that an elite private school will weaken – not compliment the neighborhood’s public schools. “I would hate to see our schools tiered by income level. I really think it dilutes our public schools,” said Tom Goodkind, a Battery Park City resident and Community Board 1 member. “[A private school] will give wealthy parents the option of sending their kids to a nearby school that may yield better test results. Rather than appealing to the P.T.A. to improve our schools, those parents’ voices will just go away.”

But the parents who opt for private school are not the same ones who attend the city’s public schools, says Koffler. “A family that is predisposed to wanting a private school experience is going to look for that experience anywhere in the city that they’re going to find it,” he said.

Now, for the first time, they have the option of finding it in the heart of the Financial District.

Ronda@DowntownExpress.com

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