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Foundling School to Feature Dance Studio, Rooftop Playground

By Jill Colvin | November 29, 2011 8:09am | Updated on November 29, 2011 8:10am
A rendering of the new Foundling school.
A rendering of the new Foundling school.
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MDSzerbaty Associates Architecture via Facebook

MIDTOWN — The highly anticipated new Foundling elementary school will offer its students a host of special features, including a dance studio, rooftop playground and two-story library, according to new architectural plans released last week.

The school, which will be taking over the bottom six floors of the Foundling Hospital at Sixth Avenue and West 17th Street, is set to open its doors in Sept. 2014, potentially alleviating overcrowded classrooms across Chelsea, Greenwich Village, Flatiron District and Midtown, which advocates complain are bursting at the seams.

“This is really exciting,” said Layla Law-Gisiko, chair of Community Board 5’s education committee, which got a sneak peak of the new design last week along with Community Board 2. The school will be the first elementary school in CB 5’s district, although which students it will serve is already stirring tense debate.

According to architect Michael Szerbaty, the so-called Foundling school, which has been named P.S. 340, will serve 518 students, with three classes each of pre-K through fifth grade. The building, which is currently home to the Foundling Hospital, will be split in two — with the school located on the bottom six floors and Foundling offices on the floors above. Separate entrances and elevators will serve each half.

Floor plans and a model revealed at the meeting show an open design, with a wide, central staircase running through the building and plenty of large windows and open spaces to create a sense of unity, Szerbaty said.

The plan includes science, art, music and special-education classrooms; a two-story library; a large, ground-floor cafeteria with windows looking out onto the street; and a cellar-level lecture hall, complete with a stage for potential performances.

The plan also includes several unique features, including a sixth-floor “multi-purpose room” that can be used for physical-education classes; and a ground-floor dance studio, complete with a professional wooden floor, mirrored walls and barres.

Pre-school kids will have access to a terrace play space on the second floor featuring jungle gyms and a rubbery surface, as well as 4-foot-deep planters that could be used for an outdoor gardening.

Throughout the presentation, members of CB 5 and CB 2 seemed impressed.

“It sounds very exciting and very artistic,” said Lois Rakoff, chair of Community Board 2’s education committee, following the presentation.

Rakoff, who began her career as a dance teacher, said she especially loved the idea of the dance space, which she thought could host music therapy classes for special-ed students.

The construction team said that transforming the hospital into a school presented a particular challenge, but noted there were also benefits — like elevators large enough to hold whole kindergarten classes and numerous bathrooms already in place.

“It’s another situation where we try to put a school in a place where we never thought we could put one,” said Michael Mirisola, of the city's School Construction Authority, who added that the DOE expects to take possession of the school this July and begin construction soon.

But just who will go to the school is still up for debate.

In recent months, CB 5 had urged the Department of Education to designate Foundling as a “zoned” school, with attendance limited to children who live nearby. The board had also petitioned the DOE to include the school as part of a controversial, massive new rezoning proposal, which aims to re-draw where parents in much of Manhattan send their kids to school in an attempt to ease overcrowding.

But while the DOE listened and included Foundling in a revised version of its rezoning plan, the District 2 Community Education Council, which has final say over zoning changes, slammed the proposed boundaries as hastily drawn and voted against it 8-0.

"If we're going to do this, I want to do it right,” said CEC District 2 President Shino Tanikawa, who argued that it doesn't make sense to include the school in a zoning plan now, if it won’t open until 2014.

"We don't want to have to rezone [again, when Foundling opens],” she said.

Under the plan, children who fell into the Foundling catchment area, or the area that determines which students are eligible to attend, would have been zoned to attend P.S. 41 until Foundling opened. But members argued that the proposal left P.S. 41's zone too large for the next two years, and then too small when Foundling eventually split off.

Law-Gisiko applauded the DOE for agreeing to make Foundling a zoned school rather than an application-based choice school, saying she “was thrilled” by the decision. But, she agreed the DOE's zoning lines left much to be desired.

The proposed Foundling zone would slice through neighborhoods, drawing kids from the southeastern end of Chelsea, between Seventh and Fifth avenues between West 18th and 12th Streets.

It would also draw kids from the area bounded by Fourth to Fifth avenues between 14th and 10th streets, which is traditionally thought of as part of the Village.

“There is a great sense of community that goes with belonging to a school,” said Law-Gisiko, who said the borders should better follow long-established community boundaries, like 23rd Street, Park Avenue and Broadway, which would make more sense to residents.

CB 5's education committee decided to spend the next several weeks talking to residents and crunching numbers, and hopes to suggest new zoning borders at its meeting next month.

With reporting by Julie Shapiro