Community leaders and education advocates are fuming over an apparent about-face by the City’s Department of Education (DOE), which has backed away from a 2016 promise about the design of the new public elementary school on Trinity Place, in the Financial District (slated to open in September, 2022).
As Tricia Joyce, chair of the Youth and Education Committee of Community Board 1 (CB1) explained at the Board’s June 22 meeting, “the School Construction Authority and the DOE gave a presentation to Community Education Council that included the design of the new school, and it showed gymnatorium.”
This was a reference to the hybrid space that DOE has designed for many new schools in recent years, as a cost-cutting measure. It combines aspects off a traditional gym with an auditorium. Such facilities are usually considerably smaller than regulation gyms, which imposes limits on what such a school can offer students, both in terms of its physical education program and its ability to field sports teams for competition with other schools. Combining athletic and performance spaces also means that arts programs are forced to compete with physical education and team sports for use of the same space, with the effect that both offerings are scaled back.
“This is deeply disappointing,” Ms. Joyce continued. “We have only three full-sized gyms for nine public schools in Lower Manhattan. Millennium High School and the Lower Manhattan Community School and both don’t have gyms. These spaces are vital for after-school programs, and for other nearby schools that don’t have gyms.”
“This is really important,” she observed. “It’s part of our infrastructure, but the DOE treats it like an amenity. In 2016, we prevented a gymnatorium from being designed for this school, because of the programming failures that this approach created at Peck Slip,” another Lower Manhattan public school that lacks a gym.
“At Peck Slip,” she recalls, “we had to fight to get the street in front of the school closed, so that kids could have recess and gym at the same time.”
“I have a letter from the Chancellor saying that they were agreeing to put a full gym in the new school for the sake of the kids,” Ms. Joyce noted, “along with letters from elected officials. This was a major victory.”
Ms. Joyce said that she has begun formal inquiries with the DOE, to find out why and when they reconsidered their 2016 commitment, and added that she plans to begin mobilizing community support to have the original plan restored.