Ceremony marks opening of B.P.C.’s newest school


BY Aline Reynolds

Battery Park City students at P.S. 276 officially cut the ribbon on their new digs last Wednesday with an enthusiastic group of elected officials, staff and parents. They now no longer have to make the trek across town to Tweed Courthouse, where the school incubated last year.

Students and faculty moved into the new space in early September, where it is currently educating 350 youngsters, kindergarten through second grades and one group of sixth graders. It will expand to a full pre-k-through-8 school by 2013-14, adding one grade each year.

“I’ve never seen a happier or more excited group of kids or parents than this group on the opening day of school this year,” said New York State Senator Daniel Squadron at the ceremony. “And that is because of what an extraordinary space this is and what an extraordinary road it’s been that the parents and the community have gone down together to get to it.”

The other elected officials on stage spoke of the growing population Downtown that, they said, is creating an acute need for more neighborhood schools.

“What I think is so important today is we really see our community has become in many respects a victim of our own success,” said C.B. 1 Chair Julie Menin, who was involved in the initial discussions about the school. “People are flooding into our community, and now we need to make sure that the schools that we’re building are at pace with the many demands this community has.”

“Think about the transformation of southern Manhattan, in terms of what’s going on here – the growth, the development, the need for more schools, for people to want to come here and live here,” said N.Y.C. Department of Education Chancellor Joel Klein. “There’s nothing like schools to find its way back.”

The officials also praised Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s School Overcrowding Task Force, which he formed in spring 2008 in an attempt to alleviate congestion in Downtown schools. In addition to P.S. 276, the task force helped spearhead the Spruce Street School (P.S. 397), which also incubated last year at Tweed and will remain there until the end of this school year.

“We’ve worked hard to open new schools, and I hope in the not-too-distant future we’ll be back here Downtown and we’ll get more,” Silver said.

Another school, P.S. 94, is also holding special education classes there for its autistic children, who will get to share the cafeteria and auditorium with the P.S. 276 students, and participate in the school’s extracurricular programs. “It’s very exciting for us that they have the opportunity to participate in so many unique activities… and to be part of a regular school cause they’re just regular kids,” said P.S. 94 Principal Ronnie Shuster.

After the formal speeches, a spunky group of five-year-olds trotted down the aisles of the auditorium to sing Woody Gurthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” led by Lucas Rotman. The crowd cheerfully sang along.

“[Tweed Courthouse] was a great, beautiful building to the end, and they were very welcoming to us, but this is just our home,” Rotman said.

Greening of 55 Battery Place

The eight-story building that P. S. 276 and P.S. 94 now occupy was constructed with the environment in mind.

Dattner Architects designed the space in adherence to the Green Schools Guide, a special set of environmental guidelines the School Construction Authority follows when building new schools. “We did an analysis recently to see how this school did in comparison to [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] LEED,” said Daniel Heuberger, a principal at Dattner Architects. “It’s roughly LEED-Gold equivalent.”

The $80 million construction project was completed in eight months, roughly half the time that a project of this magnitude usually takes, according to Heuberger, who gave a tour of the building last Wednesday. “It was a very intense design effort followed by a very intense construction period,” he said. “A lot of people were working on it at the same time.”

Only part of the building will be occupied until Fall 2013, when it will reach full capacity. “It’s really big — there’s a lot of room. It feels empty,” said a P.S. 276 sixth grader who was distributing pamphlets at last week’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Danielle Blake, the after-school program’s director, said the space can “feel a little overwhelming, but I think the kids have gotten a hang of it.”

Each classroom seats about 25 students, which are all equipped with SmartBoards and computers. The desktops are hooked up to the solar panels on the rooftop, which generate data that the students study in their science labs.

Solar panels, funded by the Battery Park City Authority, generate about half of the building’s annual lighting load. “It’s important because it basically gives the city the opportunity to have a test platform for future technology,” Heuberger said.

The system is “still expensive,” Heuberger continued, “but in the future it’ll be more affordable.”

On the fifth floor, colorful ceramic plates of area residents line the walls of the cafeteria. They were collected and arranged by artist Jean Shin, whom the D.O.E. commissioned to design the artwork for the school.

To reduce its waste volume, the schools adhere to the B.P.C.’s waste management system: a pulper chops up the garbage to half its size before it gets picked up by the city Department of Sanitation. In an eco-conscious effort, the school is also recycling milk cartons, paper and other materials.

P.S. 276 is also taking sports and recess seriously. The building has a 10,000-square-foot outdoor play roof on its third floor that has a jungle gym, a running track and a garden. Heuberger noted that the roof’s concrete floor is slip-resistant to prevent accidents and waterproofed to keep water from seeping into the building.

There is also room to play indoors: a large, multi-purpose gym on the school’s ground floor hosts after-school sports. “They’re a lot of fun and incredibly energetic,” said Jon Carey, the school’s gym teacher, of his students.

In coordination with Manhattan Youth Downtown Community Center, P.S. 276 offers volleyball, soccer and touch football, in the fall, basketball and wrestling in the winter, and basketball, softball and track in the spring.

Blake conducts cooking and ceramics workshops, which weren’t available last year at Tweed Courthouse. “It’s a beautiful building,” she said of 55 Battery Place. “We’re really lucky to be able to run these programs out of here. It’s a lot of fun.”