Claremont Prep happy in new Downtown digs

BY Aline Reynolds

Lower Manhattan is now home to a new, private pre-K through 12 school. School staff, parents and students gathered at a ribbon-cutting ceremony bright and early Monday morning to celebrate the official opening of Claremont Preparatory’s new campus at One Morris Street.

On September 13, the new building opened its doors to 162 youths grades five through ten, with the goal of admitting 960 students grades five through twelve by 2016. The new portion of the school, serving grades 5 through 10, is steps away from its original building at 41 Broad Street, across Broadway, which opened as an elementary and middle school in 2005.

MetSchools founder and C.E.O. Michael Koffler quickly saw the need to expand the school.

“We want to provide a sense of community that adds to what has happened in Lower Manhattan going back nine years ago,” said Koffler.

“Being able to support Lower Manhattan with a project of this size and scope was an uncompromising necessity.”

Koffler and his team began scouting around for a site in Lower Manhattan early last year. Of all the candidates, the building on Morris Street stuck out.

“This building has character, it’s in a proximate location [to the lower school], which was important to us, and has a fabulous ownership team,” said Koffler.

“It’s so great for Lower Manhattan,” said John Whitehead, former chairman of Goldman Sachs and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. “Kids going to private school had to commute by subway uptown… now, they’ve got their own school Downtown.”  

Ken Wrye, the interim headmaster for Claremont Prep, spoke to the significance of the new upper school as it pertains to the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan. “It’s wonderful that this school is a part of that whole renaissance,” he said.

Wrye will help develop the curriculum for the high school this year, which, currently made up of ninth and tenth graders, will tack on eleventh and twelfth grades in the coming years. The high school will graduate its first class in spring 2013.

“We feel the students need to have a global view, not just a U.S. view,” said Wrye, previously the director of the United Nations International School in New York.

Among other international programs, Wyre and his administrative staff are considering adopting the International Baccalaureate curriculum. Koffler noted that one quarter of the school’s students are immigrants, heightening the need for a transnational academic program.

In spring 2009, MetSchools signed a lease for six floors of the 22-story building on Morris Street, converting empty office space into state-of-the-art classrooms, art and music studios, a two-floor library and a 400-seat auditorium. The meals served at the school’s 275-seat cafeteria are prepared by chefs trained at the French Culinary Institute in SoHo.

By December, the school will have a full-size gymnasium and a competition-size swimming pool — a complicated overhaul of the first two floors, according to Scott Herrick, principal at H.L.W. International, the architecture firm responsible for the job. “The easy fit was to do a three-lane pool, without significant structural modifications,” said “But with three lanes, you really can’t compete.”

Claremont Prep’s two campuses will share their resources and space with one another. The elementary students, for example, will put on theatrical productions in the upper school’s auditorium, while the high school students will cross the street to train in the practice pool for swimming competitions.

A featured facility of the school is its digital media classroom, equipped with 12 brand new iMac computers. Instructor Bradley Kaye will be teaching video shooting and editing to the school’s ninth and tenth graders.

“I just think they do so much video work already, and [this class] is taking it to another level,” he said.

With only eight students in the high school workshop class, Kaye said he has ample opportunity to work with students individually to hone their skills. “I could take the time and sit down with one, to get him or her up to speed, if need be,” he said.

The upper school students are required to wear Lands’ End uniforms – there are many outfits the youngsters can choose from — as long as they have the Lands’ End logo.

“It keeps some continuity, and it also gives them the ability to be a little bit more liberal with their dress,” said Daniel Koffler, director of business development for MetSchools who is familiar with the upper school.

And, as do the elementary schoolers, the youngsters keep their belongings in unlocked cubbies.

“It’s an honor system,” explained Irene Kauffman, president of the Claremont Preparatory Association, the school’s parent group. “Everyone needs to know they can trust each other and are expected to be trustworthy.”

Kauffman is equally excited about the new space at One Morris Street. “You just feel like you won the lottery in that building – we just feel so lucky,” she said, commenting on the amount of natural light pouring into the classrooms.

On Monday afternoon, Kauffman gave some lower school parents a tour of the new space at One Morris Street.

The building itself is a relic of the past. Erected in 1921, it once housed Cunard Cruiseline. The school’s admissions office on the 22nd floor is the former quarters of the commodore himself; the room’s original floors, ceilings, fireplace and stain glass windows are intact, according to Daniel Koffler.

The top floor of One Morris Street has a 12,000-square-foot balcony that provides students with panoramic views of the Statue of Liberty, Governor’s Island and parts of Manhattan. “[The views] are used as an inspiration for the art class and an overall understanding of where this school is and what it means to the city,” Daniel Koffler said.