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City Can't Afford $1M-a-Year Gym at Millennium High School

By Julie Shapiro | November 8, 2011 11:30am

FINANCIAL DISTRICT — The city has given up on building Millennium High School's long-desired gym because it would be too expensive, officials said Monday.

The city spent years searching for potential gym spaces near the Financial District school, but every space it found cost at least $1 million per year to rent, said Lorraine Grillo, president of the School Construction Authority.

"That's an enormous amount of money on the city's operating budget," Grillo told Community Board 1's Youth and Education Committee Monday night.

"We have limits. The budget is tight," she said. "It's just not in the cards for us to be spending $1 million [per year] for a gym."

Millennium High School's parents and staff, along with Downtown community leaders, have been fighting for more than nine years to get a gym for the school, which was built after 9/11 in office space at 75 Broad St.

The school currently has only a weight room and an L-shaped multipurpose room, which is not big enough for team sports.

The city originally hoped to build Millennium's gym on the 34th floor of its 75 Broad St. building, but the Fire Department nixed that idea because it would have taken students too long to evacuate in an emergency, Grillo said.

Then the city began looking for nearby spaces to lease or buy, but they were all discouragingly expensive, Grillo said.

One of the initially promising spaces, in the 50-story office tower at 30 Broad St., was asking $1.5 million per year, and even though the city bargained it down to $1.25 million, that was still far more than the Department of Education could afford to spend, Grillo said.

"We weren't opposed to doing it," Grillo said of building a gym. "[But] we couldn't put the burden of $1 million a year on the Department of Education's operating budget."

As hopes for a gym faded earlier this year, Millennium parents asked the city to release the money that had been allocated for the gym and allow them to spend it on other needs. At the school's request, City Councilwoman Margaret Chin shifted her $350,000 grant for the gym to new technology for the school instead.

Grillo said the city's efforts to find a gym for Millennium have "ceased," since even if an affordable space were found, there is no longer enough money to renovate it. The DOE also has to prioritize building much-needed new school seats, as opposed to projects like the gym that would not add student capacity, Grillo said.

The final remaining possibility is for Millennium to try to share space with a nearby school that has a gym, such as the Richard R. Green High School of Teaching, which just moved to a newly renovated space at 26 Broadway this fall, Grillo said.

Grillo added that while gyms are an ideal amenity, many city high schools do not have them.

Members of CB1's Youth Committee, who helped raise the money to build Millennium after 9/11, bristled at the suggestion that gyms are not a necessary part of a school and said they would continue fighting for one for Millennium.

Liat Silberman, a committee member, said a gym is especially important given the increasing concerns about obesity and bullying, which can both be addressed through athletics.

"It sends such a terrible message," Silberman said of the city's decision not to build a gym. "It's not like a gym is a luxury, like a spa. It serves a real function."