UPPER WEST SIDE — After spending a half-century on the Upper East Side, a private elementary and middle school celebrated a homecoming of sorts when it opened the doors to its new West 85th Street digs this fall.
The pre-K-through-eighth-grade Manhattan Country School opened this fall inside a former music conservancy at 150 West 85th St. after touring 47 other buildings around the city, school communications director Angela Meadows said.
The progressive school was looking to move to a bigger space than the East 96th Street townhouse it had occupied since opening 50 years ago.
Sandwiched between Central and Riverside parks, the Upper West Side was a good fit in terms of its proximity to outdoor space, but also because of its historically progressive values, she explained.
"We really felt [the neighborhood] was very in line with the mission of the school," Meadows said.
Students come from all over to attend the school, but the greatest percentage hail from the Upper West Side, she explained — in a way moving the school closer to its base.
Formerly occupied by Mannes College The New School for Music, which relocated to Greenwich Village, the West 85th Street building will allow MCS to double its student body to an anticipated 400 students by 2020, Meadows noted.
As part of the first phase of renovations, MCS demolished small practice spaces throughout the six-story building in order to build new and larger classrooms.
The school will also carve out space within the building's interior to create a four-story atrium that will feature an outdoor courtyard and an outdoor staircase. The atrium will also bring natural light into the classrooms, Meadows said.
A final phase includes a rooftop penthouse addition that will hold the science lab. The entire renovation is projected to cost $15 million, she said.
The Upper East Side townhouse the school vacated "was a very quirky place," filled with logistical challenges and far-from-ideal scenarios — like a basement art room that lacked natural light, Meadows said.
The move stemmed from a sense that the school was bursting at the seams — with a science lab only slightly larger than a closet, for example — but also from financial reasons.
MCS has sliding-scale tuition, with 75 percent of students body paying a portion of the annual tuition of between $44,100 and $46,200, rather than the full amount.
The sliding scale allows MCS to assemble classes that are diverse in terms of socioeconomic status, race and background, Meadows explained.
The only way to continue with that model is to grow so that more students can help shoulder the costs, she said.
When completed, the Mannes building reconstruction will yield 44,000 square feet, whereas the townhouse offered only 17,000 square feet. The three-phase renovation is expected to be finished by 2021.
In addition to more than doubling its size, taking over a former school building has many advantages, Meadows said.
The Upper East Side townhouse "felt like a home," while the Mannes building "really feels like a school," she said.
And though "there has been a concern about the loss of the close-knit community" among current families, "that concern is not going to bear itself to be true," Meadows added.
Through its core values — an emphasis on social justice and sustainability — the school will remain cohesive and community-oriented, she said.
MCS will also continue to build its community through students' time together at the school's farm, which is located 150 miles away in Roxbury, N.Y.
Starting at age 7, students visit the farm and learn to manage it during a weeklong visit. They will visit 16 more times before leaving the school, with graduation requirements including milking a cow and making a textile piece, among others, Meadows said.
Students learn both "independence and interdependence" through their experience on the farm, she added.