Future of Gehry Building's New School at Risk, Parents Warn

By Julie Shapiro on April 14, 2011 6:45am 

Students at the Spruce Street School helped out at a school fundraiser last year.
Students at the Spruce Street School helped out at a school fundraiser last year.
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

By Julie Shapiro

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

LOWER MANHATTAN — The Spruce Street School's spacious new digs at downtown's glittering $680 million Frank Gehry-designed skyscraper aren't large enough to accommodate the school's expansion plans, parents say.

The fledgling school, which currently serves kindergarten to first-grade students, will relocate from its temporary space at the Tweed Courthouse to the New York by Gehry tower in September.

But parents warn that, despite several floors of classroom space, the school's plan to eventually serve students through the eighth grade is at risk due to the number of kindergarten students the Education Department admitted for the 2011-2012 academic year.

"We're in a big mess," said Kimberly Busi, co-president of Spruce's PTA. "We're really not happy."

Unlike many zoned schools, which have a cap on students and hold a lottery if too many apply, the Spruce Street School has been left wide open to accept all applicants in its geographical zone.

Spruce will take in at least four kindergarten classes this fall, even though the school is only meant to have two classes per grade, Busi said.

The school can handle the influx in the short term because its new school space has 20 classrooms. But parents say that, as the students get older and the establishment grows to include a middle school, there won't be any space left for the older children to use.

Busi fears the situation could get even worse this fall as Department of Education officials have said they may use Spruce as an "overflow" site for kindergartners who are waitlisted at other downtown schools. Busi called this plan "unacceptable."

The Department of Education declined to comment.

Spruce's PTA recently started a petition calling on the DOE to immediately cap kindergarten enrollment at Spruce and to find another place to put the district's extra kindergartners. In less than two weeks, the petition has gathered nearly 100 signatures.

Busi, along with several other Spruce parents who signed the petition and said Busi speaks on their behalf, see the petition as a way of protecting Spruce's middle school, which she and others have long been concerned may never open because there won't be enough room for it.

The Spruce Street School will move to its permanent home in the base of Frank Gehry's new skyscraper this fall.
The Spruce Street School will move to its permanent home in the base of Frank Gehry's new skyscraper this fall.
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

"The middle school is not going to happen if they keep adding extra kindergarten classes," Busi said. "This is a real, serious risk to the model of our school."

Busi said many parents decided to send their children to Spruce because they were excited about the K-8 structure, which Busi believes provides academic and social benefits to students.

To alleviate school overcrowding in lower Manhattan, the city plans to start a new Downtown school in the fall of 2012. However, that will be too late to help with the situation this fall.

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