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High School of Art and Design Kicks Off School Year in New Building

By Mary Johnson | September 14, 2012 2:44pm

MIDTOWN EAST — Like any new tenants fresh from a big move, the High School of Art and Design still needs a few finishing touches to make its shiny new space more like home.

The walls inside the school’s new building, which opened last week on East 56th Street between Second and Third avenues, are still largely bare, awaiting student-created artwork and school notices. Teachers in some classes welcome guests while simultaneously apologizing for the state of their classrooms, which are still not quite in order.

But administrators at the school — which counts among its alumni Tony Bennett, Calvin Klein and Harvey Fierstein — said the slow-and-steady move-in process has not detracted from the excitement that comes with starting a new school year in a fresh space.

“All in all, it’s a plus,” said principal Eric Strauss. “It’s a lovely school. We’re happy to be here.”

The High School of Art and Design moved to the new space from its old building less than a block away, on Second Avenue between East 56th and 57th streets. It shares the new structure with P.S. 59 and Whole Foods, which opened several weeks ago.

Strauss said that the new space offers students both a gymnasium and an auditorium — both amenities they had lost to construction projects at their old building.

The new classrooms are outfitted with smart boards, and students will be able to showcase their work in two separate galleries — one on the first floor and one on the 10th floor.

However, only the first-floor gallery will be open to the public, with a debut exhibit planned for some time in October, Strauss said.

Although many of the walls are blank slates, the school has incorporated some artistic pieces so far.

In front of the first-floor elevators hangs a mural that dates to 1956. It once hung in Brooklyn’s Family Court, but when that building was renovated, the court offered the mural to the school, Strauss said.

Artist and Pulitzer Prize-winner Art Spiegelman, another alumnus of the High School of Art and Design, also designed a mural that will overlook the school’s new cafeteria, Strauss said.

The piece was slightly damaged when it was sent to the school from Germany, but Strauss said it will be installed once it is repaired.

Despite all the new features, some details remain from the old building. Classical music signals the end of class periods, instead of the cacophony of ringing bells. And students are already immersed in their respective studies, from photography to film to graphic design.

“The students are very aware that they’re in a special place,” said Jim Johnson, the school’s associate principal. “It’s been a very positive experience.”