Parents and Principals Call Foul Over Lack of School Gym Space on LES
LOWER EAST SIDE — The gym at East Side Community High School is simply two classrooms with the dividing wall removed.
The East Village school's 625 students can barely run around in the makeshift workout space, which is just two-thirds the size of a basketball court and has a tiled floor and 13-foot ceiling.
"It's just sad," said Mark Federman, the school's principal. "You look at a suburban school or a private school and it's just something that you would never imagine — a high school without a gym."
The East 12th Street high school is just one of many in the area without recreation space, according to a new report from District 1's Community Education Council. The report found that more than a third of schools in the district do not have a gym or must share their gym with other schools, making it difficult to fulfill state physical education requirements.
At East Side Community High School, the gym is only big enough to fit 50 students at once, triggering a "scheduling nightmare," Federman said. The school's sports teams sometimes have to forfeit games if the borrowed spaces they use in other schools aren't available.
“We don’t have adequate gym space, adequate space for movement,” said Lisa Donlan, the president of the District 1 CEC, which covers the East Village, the Lower East Side and part of Chinatown.
While gym space is an issue across the city, it is a particular problem in District 1 because many of the schools were built more than 100 years ago, when gyms were generally not included in the design, Donlan said.
"I don't think we have had a school built [in District 1] since 1975," Donlan said.
The Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment on District 1's shortage of gym space.
The CEC's report found that 11 of the district's 31 public schools use rooms designed for another purpose, like classrooms or lobbies.
At University Neighborhood High School, there is a "cafegymalobauditorium" — a combined cafeteria, lobby, auditorium and gym, according to the report.
Five of the district's school buildings had adequate gym and yard space, but had to share that space among three or more schools, the report found.
At P.S. 64 on East 6th Street, three schools in the building share the gym, and East Side Community High uses it in the evenings as well, Federman said.
The crammed workout spaces make it a challenge to give kids the required 120 minutes of exercise per week for kindergarten through sixth grade and 90 minutes per week for seventh through 12th grade, principals and parents said.
East Village Community School's "gym" is made of two converted classrooms is only big enough for activities like yoga and dance, parents said.
"On rainy days, they actually sit and watch movies [during recess and lunch], but if they had a gym they would be running around," said parent Karen Weiser, who wishes her daughter could play basketball and volleyball instead.
Federman said East Side Community High School has explored enlarging its current gym space, turning the auditorium into a multipurpose space and installing an inflatable bubble over the outdoor basketball court during the winter.
Each option, though, hits the same wall: the need for cash.
"They would all be between 1 and 3 million dollars," Federman said.
The CEC's report highlighted several creative solutions, including P.S. 110's installation of a springy floor in its lobby over the summer so the space could better double as a gym.
At the University Neighborhood Middle School, officials are in the process of redesigning the yard to "make it more fitness-friendly," according to principal Laura Peynado.
"We are trying to look at this from a community effort," Donlan said, "and what creative solutions the community can undertake."