Elite St. David's School Looks to Expand with Rooftop Addition

By Lindsay Armstrong on February 11, 2014 6:59am 

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 St. David's is the latest in a series of Upper East Side private schools to try to expand.
St. David's School Expansion Plan
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UPPER EAST SIDE — The Dalton School isn’t the only tony Upper East Side academy with expansion plans.

St. David’s School, an elite all-boys K-8 institution on East 89th Street next to the Guggenheim Museum, wants to gut-renovate one of its landmark buildings to provide space for athletics, performing arts and advanced science courses.

The $60 million plan, which includes a one-story rooftop addition, has already received approval from the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission but must now get the go-ahead for its proposed zoning change before it can proceed.

“It’s been a more than 40-year dream of the school to be able to house these kinds of large spaces on its 89th Street campus,” said St. David's headmaster David O’Halloran.

The nearly $40,000-per-year school — which counts John F. Kennedy Jr. and Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s son as alumni — currently occupies three townhouses on East 89th Street between Fifth and Madison avenues.

The school also owns the neighboring Graham House, a former residential hotel built in 1892, and has gradually converted some of its apartments for use as classroom space.

As the school has grown, however, the lack of large spaces on campus has become an increasing problem, officials said.

About 20 years ago, St. David’s purchased an off-site gym on East 94th Street as a temporary solution. The school started busing its 400 students back and forth for gym class and after-school programs, a cumbersome routine that continues today, the school said.

In addition to a campus gym, the school lacks performance space for its music and theater programs and for science labs that incorporate the latest technology, according to O'Halloran.

“The school is just under tremendous pressure in terms of space,” he said. “Right now, space is driving our programming when it should be the other way around.”

According to St. David’s website, the plan is to gut-renovate the Graham House in order to create a smaller gym for phys-ed class, science and robotics labs, a new art room and a large performance space.

The school also plans to add a one-story rooftop addition to the building In order to accommodate a second, regulation-size gym for middle school athletics. There are no plans to add a high school to the pre-K through eighth grade school or to expand the student body.

Representatives from St. David’s will present the plan to Community Board 8’s Land Use Committee on Wednesday evening to try to secure approval to convert the building to school use and to enlarge certain sections.

Graham House is also a part of the Carnegie Hill Historic District and the school was required to receive permission to alter a building in a landmarked area.The plan received mixed reviews when it went before the board’s Landmarks Committee in May 2013 with four votes to recommend approval and four votes against it.

Board 8 took a strong stand against a similar plan in September by The Dalton School to add a two-story rooftop addition. Several community members criticized the school for using its "privileged" position to push through an expansion plan that they said would negatively impact the school’s neighbors.

Dalton’s addition was eventually approved by the city’s Board of Standard and Appeals.

St. David’s has reportedly come under some criticism for pushing out the Graham House’s remaining tenants, although the school said it notified tenants long before it was legally required to do so and assisted in their relocation.

O’Halloran said that St. David’s has actively sought feedback from the community and adapted its original plans in hopes of avoiding such a conflict.

“We’re looking forward to the meeting on Wednesday," he said. "I think a lot of the concerns that were raised by the landmarks committee, we’ve been able to address without compromising our plans too much.”

Nick Viest, chairman of Community Board 8, declined to comment on the plan until after Wednesday’s meeting.

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