Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel
The building at 38-50 Cooper Square, between E. Sixth and Seventh Sts., in which Grace Church plans to open a high school.
Grace Church plans to start new high school in 2012
By Albert Amateau
In a neighborhood where classroom space is a top priority, Grace Church School plans to open a new high school, one grade at a time, starting in 2012 in a four-story building where New York University now has classrooms on the west side of Cooper Square.
Community Board 2 last month unanimously approved the Board of Standards and Appeals application by the owner of 38-50 Cooper Square and Grace Church School, as lessee, for a use change to allow for the high school.
“We’ve had constant population growth in this part of Manhattan without much school infrastructure, either public or private,” said George Davison, headmaster of the pre-kindergarten-to-eighth-grade Grace Church School. “Look at P.S. 234 [in Tribeca] and P.S. 41 [in Greenwich Village] where they’ve had lotteries last year. Those kids will be going to high school someday. We hope to draw families from public elementary schools who come to us for high school, as well as our own students graduating from the eighth grade into the new upper school.”
Founded in 1894 by Grace Church as a boys’ choir boarding school, G.C.S. became coed in 1947 and has been governed by an independent board of trustees since 1972. It has a current enrollment of 413 students.
The target for the new high school is 80 students per grade, which will mean more students per grade than the current pre-K-to-eighth-grade school.
“Kids in high school need [to see] new faces and you need a critical number for extracurricular programs, like theater, band and sports — important high school experiences,” he said.
The plan for the high school envisions seminar-style courses and a “March Madness” program where ninth- and 10th-grade students may designate a personal area of study with outside institutions. High school options include a foreign exchange with schools in Japan, China or India.
“We have a relationship with two schools in Japan, one in Shanghai and one in Delhi, India,” Davison said.
G.C.S. has an endowment of about $20 million and plans to raise an estimated total of $20 million to $25 million more by the time the new high school’s construction is complete around 2017, Davison said. The rough cost estimate is in un-inflated dollars.
“We can’t be more specific until we are closer to a construction schedule,” he added.
“Our first phase will be classrooms on the first and second floors. A lot of the infrastructure is there already because it’s been used as N.Y.U. classrooms,” Davison said. The first phase will also include a cafeteria and library.
“Libraries today are not just book storage,” Davison noted. “They have books but they’re more like student centers, with Internet technology and writing centers. The library is expected to occupy a third of the ground-floor space, with stairs down to the cafeteria in the basement.
The big expense of the second phase will be a full-size gym on the fourth floor. Until the second phase is completed, students will use Chelsea Piers and East River Park for sports.
“We’ll have to raise the roof a little for the gym, so we’ll have to go to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for approval,” Davison said, noting that the site is just within the Noho Historic District.
Located across from Cooper Union, the site is indeed historic. Astor Place, nearby, was where partisans of rival actors — the American Edwin Forrest and the English actor William Macready — engaged in a deadly riot in 1849.
Before construction on the high school’s first phase begins, the plan needs the approval of the Board of Standards and Appeals for a use-group change. Since there were no objections at Community Board 2 last month, Davison expects the review and approval to be a breeze.
Meanwhile, a group of parents who have been trying to organize another private high school in the neighborhood have not given up, even though their first choice of a site on Pier 40, at W. Houston St., fell through and the option on another proposed site on Vandam St. lapsed.
“We’re still working on it and we’ll be meeting again later this year,” said Aimee Bell, a parent organizer for the Greenwich Village High School.