Volume 20, Number 49 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN | APRIL 19 - 26, 2008

Silver gives Millennium a $750K assist for a gym

By Julie Shapiro

Millennium High School just took a large step toward getting a gym, thanks to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Silver set aside $750,000 for the gym in the state’s budget, surprising the school’s staff and parents, who have been fighting for a gym since the school opened in 2002.

“It’s very exciting,” Principal Robert Rhodes said Wednesday. “I was thrilled.”

But the gym is not a sure thing just yet. In the past six months, the cost estimate for construction rose from $2.1 million to $3 million, Rhodes said.

Millennium previously received $350,000 for the gym from City Councilmember Alan Gerson and applied for a $250,000 grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. Assuming the L.M.D.C. money comes through, Millennium will have $1.35 million in the bank and a fundraising goal of the remaining $1.65 million. The question is: Can the school raise the money to finish the job?

“A few days ago, I didn’t think so,” Rhodes said. “But I’m very optimistic now. It’s very different looking at $350,000 in the bank and more than $1 million in the bank.”

Even though Rhodes still needs about the same amount of money that he thought he did six months ago, he said donors will be more likely to support a project that is already moving forward. He plans to reach out to Millennium’s previous supporters, including individuals and corporate foundations.

Silver, looking extremely pleased, told Downtown Express about the gym funding at the Downtown Community Center opening last week.

“It’s important to the school, to the community,” Silver said of Millennium’s gym. “It’s about making this a family-friendly community.”

Millennium High School’s classrooms sit on floors 11, 12 and 13 of an office building at 75 Broad St. The gym would go on the 34th floor, a 4,000-square-foot space with ceilings 16 to 18 feet high.

If Millennium raises the money necessary to build out the gym, the Department of Education will lease the space for the school, Rhodes said. He also wants to refurbish the 33rd floor, which has lower ceilings, to create locker rooms and room for exercise equipment, freeing up the entire 34th floor for the gym. As part of the project, Millennium has to extend the building’s elevator up to the 34th floor.

Brian Sacks, Millennium’s athletic director, envisions an indoor climbing wall on the 34th floor. He sees students playing basketball and cheering on their classmates at home games and pep rallies.

“I’m excited for what the future might bring,” he said.

Sacks currently doesn’t have many options when planning his physical education lessons. He can have the students work out in the school’s fitness center, which has free weights and machines, or he can try to organize team sports in the school’s auditorium, which is cramped at best.

The ceiling in the auditorium is too low for basketball or volleyball, so Sacks teaches floor hockey and handball. Even then, the space is too small for all the students to run around at once. If he wants to give them a good workout, some students have to sit out while the others play.

Students currently have two 50-minute gym classes a week, but with the new gym, Sacks could offer a third weekly class as an elective, he said.

After school, Millennium has club and Public School Athletic League sports, but few of them can practice on site. The basketball teams travel up to the Houston St. YMCA and the soccer team “tries to grab any field they can,” Sacks said.

“We go wherever we can to get space, which hurts our ability to bring fans,” Sacks continued. “With everyone running around, there’s not the sense of community you usually get from sports.”

Both Rhodes and Sacks think the new gym will bring the student body together, especially through events like pep rallies. They also hope the gym will entice more male students to apply to the school, where roughly two-thirds of the 550 students are female. Rhodes thinks the gym will help Millennium attract more local students as well.

Sophie Stuart, president of Millennium’s Parent Association, said parents are pleased to see the gym move forward.

“I think it’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant,” she said of Silver’s gift. “It’s a big surprise.”

Stuart said the P.A. will try to help raise money, but she said they already support Millennium’s other enrichment and after-school programs. She hopes the parents can find local sponsors to match Silver’s donation, since the P.A.’s contribution will likely be more modest.

The school already has a good sports program, Stuart said, but the gym would allow them to develop it further. “It offers them a wider education,” she said.

Julie@DowntownExpress.com





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