HELL'S KITCHEN — Surrounded by booming construction, P.S. 51's massive new campus opened on West 44th Street for the first day of school Monday morning — much to the delight of local parents and students, who have been commuting to the Upper East Side for two years.
The new building is surrounded by the Gotham Organization's 1,200-unit, block-long residential development, Gotham West, and sits across from the future site of Beacon High School. While a few parents groused about the ongoing construction blocking off portions of the street, most were happy that their children's commute had been cut down from more than an hour.
"It's been a long time waiting," said Lili Reyes, who dropped off her 10-year-old daughter, Leila, and 8-year-old son, Edwin, after a five-minute walk from their Hell's Kitchen apartment. "I'm so happy everything's back in the right place."
In 2011, Reyes' kids, along with hundreds of other P.S. 51 students, moved to Our Lady of Good Counsel on East 91st Street after parents and staff complained of terrible noise and dust from the massive Gotham Organization construction project next door that is now wrapping up.
Parents had to bus their kids up to the campus from Hell's Kitchen, and were forced to take their kids on public transportation during the school bus driver strike last January.
Gotham gave $15 million to help build the 630-seat new school at 545 W. 44th St., which has five 22,000-square-foot floors and a huge rooftop playground.
"We had a tiny piece of this block, but we made it work," said Sal Abbracciamento, the superintendent for Turner Construction who oversaw the project. "If I didn't get it done for today, I'd be out of a job, but it's a great sense of accomplishment to see all these kids here."
Gyneth Leech, 54, said her fifth-grade daughter Grace Wilson was cautiously excited for her first day at the new building, especially after two years of a long commute.
Leech said the commute could have been much more trying on Grace, who has Down syndrome, but her teachers made it much easier.
"It was interesting, but we weathered it and had a lot of support from the staff," she said. "The new building, it's absolutely gorgeous and she's excited to see her friends."
There were plenty of new faces at the expanded school as well — many of whom were relieved that they could enroll their kids in a brand-new facility.
"We knew the teachers here were great," said Mel Clarke, 56, who had dropped his son Nicholas at the school for his first day of kindergarten.
"The walk here, it's five minutes — and this is the same teachers in a nice, new building."