Millennium school opens Downtown


By Elizabeth O’Brien

Millennium High School welcomed students to its new Downtown location on Monday, after a two-month construction blitz that transformed one floor of an office building at 75 Broad St. into a sleek learning space for 220 ninth and tenth graders.

City and state officials hailed the opening of Millennium, the first public high school in Lower Manhattan to give admissions preference to local students, as a sign of Downtown’s rebirth after Sept. 11, 2001.

The school’s opening sends a clear message that “New York cannot be stopped,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said at a Friday news conference at the school.

In his April speech outlining a timetable for Downtown rebuilding, Gov. George Pataki highlighted the opening of Millennium High School as one of the premiere Downtown events to come in 2003. Pressure to make the governor’s vision a reality helped overcome a tight construction schedule and tensions between community members and the Department of Education over admissions requirements.

“There were a lot of bumps on the road to being here today,” Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said on Friday.

Pataki and Mayor Mike Bloomberg also attended the event. Pataki credited Madelyn Wils, chairperson of Community Board 1, with leading the effort to get the school opened.

“We are standing here in large part because of what she has done,” the governor said.

Wils, who brought one of her children to the ceremony, called the high school “a dream come to true for all of us here in Lower Manhattan.”

The rush to complete part of the school didn’t force the city to exceed its budget, said Bill Goldstein, president of the School Construction Authority. F.J. Sciame Construction Co., Inc. served as the construction manager for the project, and the firm pushed even harder than it usually does to finish on time, said Frank Sciame.

If the school couldn’t open at Broad St. in time for the new school year, community board members had discussed the possibility of students remaining in their temporary location at the High School of Art Design on Second Avenue and 57th St. Many expressed relief that the school made the governor’s Sept. 8 deadline.

“It’s a lot better than being in someone else’s school,” said Brandon Ramirez, 15.

The school’s design also got high marks from students.

“It’s very retro and open,” said Christopher Curmi, 15.

The 30,000 sq. ft. space the school occupies on the 13th floor of 75 Broad St. looks nothing like a typical school layout of box-like classrooms off straight hallways. Instead, classrooms are nestled behind curved walls painted orange and green. Lounge areas in the central common space have orange and green benches and squat black armchairs.

“It’s even better than what the architects drew on paper,” said Millennium principal Robert Rhodes.

The school will expand down to the 11th and 12th floors in time for the next school year, and construction on those levels is to begin immediately. The 12th floor will house most of the common areas. Until the gym is completed, students will use the McBurney Y.M.C.A. on 14th St.

After her first day of school on Monday, ninth grader Angela Yeung found something else to celebrate about the school’s design: the lack of chalk. Instead of blackboards, all classrooms have white boards and markers.

“I was really relieved,” said Yeung, whose allergy to chalk previously forced her to sit in the back of classrooms.

Andrew Erb, 15, was glad he didn’t have to travel far to get to school.

“I don’t really like taking the subway too much,” said Erb, who can walk to Millennium in 15 minutes from his home in southern Battery Park City.

Community members fought for Millennium to be a high school that gave admissions preference to students living south of Houston St. When members thought that Klein would not commit in writing to this provision, Community Board 1 officials threatened to withhold the $12 million they had raised for Millennium High School.

In late July, a Department of Education official sent a letter to Wils satisfying the board that the agency would give Downtown students first dibs on the school. Currently, more than 50 percent of the student body lives south of Houston, according to Rhodes.

Another community requirement honored by the city is that at least 75 percent of the student body score in the top two levels on statewide standardized tests.

Students on Monday seemed to sense that their school was the product of much planning and hard work.

“Most of the time, public schools are not that great,” said Maria Tirado, 14. “This was better — I liked it all.”