Volume 22, Number 27 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | November 13 - 19, 2009
Downtown Express photo by Julie Shapiro
“We really need to make a big noise” about getting a gym, said Nichole Thompson-Adams, center, a Millennium High School parent.
City playing prevent defense on school gym?
By Julie Shapiro
The $2.25 million earmarked for Millennium High School’s gym could disappear unless the city finds a place for the gym soon.
The $2.25 million accumulated slowly, over several budget cycles, as local politicians advocated for Millennium to get a gym. But once the funding fell into place last year, thanks to allocations from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Councilmember Alan Gerson and the city, progress on the gym halted as the city said none of the proposed sites would work.
“I find it inconceivable and totally unacceptable that after all the money was allocated many months ago, they could not have come up with a site,” Gerson said. “In a tight year when the city is cutting back projects, it’s pretty tough to justify keeping this money on hold indefinitely, which is why there needs to be a light at the end of the tunnel…. This should be done this year.”
Gerson, who is leaving office at the end of the year, expects to speak with the School Construction Authority later this week and hopes the city commits to a site before the end of December.
Millennium Principal Robert Rhodes has been fighting for a gym since his school opened in a Broad St. office building in 2003, only to find a new obstacle at every turn.
The initial plan was to build the gym on the 34th floor of Millennium’s building, but last year the Fire Dept. decided the space was unsafe because it is too high off the ground. In response, Rhodes began working with local realtors to find another space, and he gave a list of possibilities to the School Construction Authority last spring. Rhodes said the S.C.A. never replied and is no longer returning his calls or e-mails.
“I feel like I should be getting paid by the S.C.A.,” Rhodes told Downtown Express. “It’s been two or three years since the money started coming in and we have nothing to show for it. That to me is unreasonable. Being upset is a healthy reaction.”
After the city said the 34th-floor space wouldn’t work, Gerson also wrote to the S.C.A. with a list of alternatives, including the former Crunch gym space at 25 Broadway, the former Sports Museum of America space at 26 Broadway, and 140 William St., the former home of the American Numismatic Society and Gerson’s personal favorite because the entire building is empty. The S.C.A. replied to Gerson last week saying none of the spaces would work without giving specific reasons for the individual locations.
“We’ve looked into a number of potential sites for a gym for Millennium High School, and for either financial or other feasibility reasons, none of the sites were appropriate,” said Will Havemann, spokesperson for the Dept. of Education, in an e-mail to Downtown Express. “We’ll continue to work with Millennium to find a feasible location for a gymnasium. Given the city’s difficult fiscal circumstances, cost-efficiency must remain an important criterion for determining an appropriate space.”
Other spaces Gerson and Rhodes suggested earlier this year include 123 William St., 150 William St., 156 William St., 45-51 Park Place, 335 Broadway, 353 Broadway, 20 Exchange Pl., 201 Pearl St., 40 Rector St., 40 Wall St. and the roof of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel parking garage.
Millennium now holds gym classes in a small weight room and an L-shaped multipurpose room, neither of which can accommodate team sports. The basketball team practices at the Chinatown YMCA, which is only available at odd hours so the athletes have to wake up as early as 5 a.m. The school has only 40 percent male students, a ratio that’s unlikely to change until the athletics programs expand, Rhodes said.
Aaron Silverman, the school’s athletic director, said, “Getting kids excited about treadmill running is hard. The impact on the physical education department has been a lack of enthusiasm and the continued frustration of the teachers.”
Millennium’s parents are getting frustrated, too. At a parent association meeting Tuesday night, they pledged to kick the campaign for a gym into high gear, with phone calls, rallies, videos, T-shirts and a petition.
“We really need to make a big noise,” said Nichole Thompson-Adams, mother of a ninth grader.
About 30 parents attended the meeting and signed up for committees that will attack the issue from different angles, trying to prod the city’s bureaucracy into action. Several parents worried that the city was stalling so they wouldn’t have to spend money on the gym at all.
When parent coordinator Angela Benfield pointed out that the money will be gone unless the city acts now, another parent added, “Maybe that’s the point.”
Rhodes said the economic downturn makes this the perfect time to lease and construct the gym space, because costs are down. Rhodes added that since the gym is fully funded, it is the definition of a shovel-ready project that can bring jobs Downtown.
“I’d like to think of it as Millennium’s own stimulus contribution to the city,” Rhodes said at Tuesday’s meeting.
Building a gym would also free up the multipurpose room for classroom space in the overcrowded school. Millennium has 620 students this year, well over its capacity of 525. Rhodes said the city’s budget cuts forced him to accept extra students so he could receive enough funding to maintain his programs.
Deborah Saat, co-president of Millennium’s parent association, concluded Tuesday’s meeting by reminding the parents that they are asking for a necessity, not an amenity.
“The school’s not finished,” Saat said. “They need to finish what they started.”