Volume 18 • Issue 15 | September 01 - 08, 2005

Downtown Express photos by Ramin Talaie

Shari D. Silverstein, head of school at Claremont Preparatory, a new private school on Broad St. in Lower Manhattan.

Students are joining stockbrokers now on Wall St.

By Ellen Keohane

The Financial District’s newest commuters will be sporting book bags instead of briefcases when a new private grammar and middle school opens its doors to students on Sept. 7.

Located just one block from the New York Stock Exchange at 41 Broad St., the Claremont Preparatory School is the first secular private school to open below Canal St. in Lower Manhattan.

Most of the building had been unused for the past 10 years, said Shari D. Silverstein, the head of the school. Designed by Cross & Cross Architects in 1929, 41 Broad St. was originally a bank, then a Conway department store.

After a gut renovation, the building will now house a grammar and middle school for 54 students in grades K-2 and 4-7, as well as 38 full- and part-time staff members starting next week. This year’s students include those transferring from both public and private schools, who will commute from as far away as Jersey City, the Bronx and Queens, and as close as 15 Broad St., the residential building next door, Silverstein said. She hopes the school will reach its maximum capacity of 1,000 K-8 graders by 2007.

Fern Glover, a financial analyst who works two blocks away from Claremont, first read about the school in Downtown Express and The New York Times. Her 10-year-old daughter Nyree will start fifth grade at Claremont this fall.

The prep school’s extracurricular activities and afterschool programs are what first attracted her, Glover said. Nyree’s old school in the Bronx did not offer foreign language or have a gym. “[Claremont] offered everything that I needed for her,” she said.

Claremont’s after-school program will offer a variety of activities, based on student feedback. This year’s proposed activities include swimming, basketball, volleyball, photography, robotics and creative writing, Silverstein said.

It’s been difficult attracting new students to Claremont, largely because there has not been a school to show until recently. So Silverstein has had to be creative by showing parents floor plans, giving tours of the unfinished building and describing what the empty classrooms will look like. As her father was an architect and her mother an industrial engineer, Silverstein said she feels pretty comfortable navigating around construction sites.

Before becoming head of Claremont, Silverstein was the assistant director of the Claremont Children’s School, a preschool at 747 Amsterdam Ave., on the Upper West Side. Coincidentally, that school is also located in a former bank — and Silverstein started working there when it was first under renovation.

Claremont Prep’s first-floor auditorium, a former bank hall and later Conway department store, will be used as a multipurpose hall for various gatherings and events.

On Aug. 19, boxes lined the entryway and classrooms of the school. Workers filed in and out of the 12-story building. Furniture had not yet been delivered and administrators used folding tables as makeshift desks.

Rolling out construction plans on her temporary desk, Silverstein flipped through the school’s various floor plans. In addition to classrooms, the school will house two science labs, two art studios, a wood-and-metal shop, a library, cafeteria and swimming pool. On the ninth floor, there will be a regulation-size gym. There will also be a smaller gym with bars and mirrors for dance classes and treadmills for runners on the 10th floor, and on the roof, there will be a small track as well as a half court for basketball and nets for tennis and volleyball.

Silverstein explained that floors two, three and four, as well as the school’s library, gyms and cafeteria would be completed in time for the beginning of classes. The school’s swimming pool should be done by mid-to-late September. However, construction on the roof recreation space and classrooms above the fourth floor would most likely continue until December, she said.

The building’s most impressive space is its first-floor auditorium, which used to be a banking hall. On a recent Friday afternoon, plastic sheets covered the room’s historic murals by Griffith Baily Coale to protect them as workers demolished the floor. Silverstein believes that the hall’s original floor was destroyed when the Conway store used the space.

When completed, the auditorium will have a new marble tile floor and will contain movable furniture, a retractable stage and a drop-down movie screen, Silverstein said. The school’s colors, which are green and gold, were selected to match the mosaic tiles in the room, explained Silverstein.

The original wood panels, fireplaces and existing marble floors in the school’s administrative offices on the second floor have also been restored. Because the building’s chimneys are too damaged to be used, the restored fireplaces will have to be electric, Silverstein said.

That day, Soo Sonntag, who is Silverstein’s assistant, brought her 5-year-old son Thomas to work. Thomas will start kindergarten at the school this fall. “I like science,” he said, while modeling part of the school uniform — a white collared shirt with a Claremont Prep patch.

While uniforms help eliminate competition between students, they can also stifle creativity, Silverstein said. So she is offering a variety of shirts, pants, skirts, Bermuda shorts, skorts and blazers in a variety of colors for students to choose from. Parents will order the uniforms from the Lands’ End catalogue.

There will be a maximum of 20 children in each class at the school and every class will have a head and assistant teacher, Silverstein said. As expected, the majority of this year’s classes will be on the small side. While there will be two kindergarten classes of 11 or 12 students, the seventh grade will only have three students, she said.

We want to provide a learning community where people feel comfortable and confident, said Sergio Alati, head of Claremont’s lower school. For example, everyone — from the head of maintenance to the head of school — will have to do lunch duty. In addition, lower school students will be matched up with mentors from the upper school, he said.

“One of our goals is to incorporate the family into the school experience,” Alati said. Therefore, once a month one parent is required to come to the school and have lunch with his or her child in the cafeteria. If a mother or father can’t make it, another adult family member needs to come.

Tuition for this year’s students will be $25,800. For those enrolling at Claremont for the 2006-2007 school year, tuition will increase to $26,500. However, students who start this year will not see an increase in their tuition bills. Financial aid is available for students who qualify, Silverstein said.

Downtown leaders see the Financial District’s first private school as part of the post-9/11 rebuilding efforts, and John Whitehead, chairperson of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, is expected to join Silverstein and Michael Koffler, the president and C.E.O. of MET Schools, Claremont’s parent company, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Claremont at 9:15 a.m. on Tues., Sept. 6.


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