By Aline Reynolds
P.S. 397 children eagerly made a red carpet entrance into their brand new building on the first day of school last Thursday. Nearly 300 Spruce Street school youngsters, pre-kindergarten through second grade, were greeted into the new Frank Gehry building last week by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, NYC Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and local elected officials.
The politicians welcomed the wide-eyed children with hand-shakes and high-fives as they made their way through the school’s main entrance and proceeded to their classrooms.
The 630-seat school, which occupies the first four stories of Beekman Tower, will house both Spruce Street and P.S. 94, a special education school for kids with autism. It’s the second new public school that has opened in the last two years, including P.S. 276 in Battery Park City, noted Community Board 1 Chair Julie Menin.
“Obviously this is a school that the community board had pushed for some time, so we’re delighted that it is finally now open,” said Menin. “The creation of this new school, and what it symbolizes in terms of all the residents that have moved Downtown, is something the whole community can be proud of.”
Parents, many of whom already had a chance to walk through the facility, were very impressed with what they saw, and with the Mayor’s appearance on opening day.
“There aren’t a lot of schools in New York that have these kinds of facilities,” said Ingrid Bernstein, who toured the school the week prior. “I think it’s cool to be in the sort of density of Downtown… but still have this incredible, huge open space.”
Bernstein’s second grader, Jackson Sanders, got to shake hands with Mayor Bloomberg.
“He was very excited to meet the Mayor,” said Jackson’s father, James Sanders.
“The Mayor was very, very friendly. He looked at [my daughter] and he said, ‘how about a high-five?’” said Tribeca resident Frances Janisch, whose five-year-old, Julia Fanning, just entered the Spruce Street School.
The family, Janisch said, couldn’t be happier with the new space in the Gehry building. “The parents look nice, the kids all look nice, the teachers are amazing, and it [has] brand new state-of-the-art facilities.”
South Street Seaport parent Francesco Rulli was more enthusiastic about the new school than about meeting the Mayor.
“It’s kind of normal. You see him walking around [Downtown] anyway,” said Rulli. As for the facility, he said, “It’s probably a bit too much. But it’s New York City. At the end of the day, if you don’t get this here, where are you going to get it?”
While describing the classrooms as spacious, organized and clean, Financial District parent Sara Chokshi agreed that the building is a bit over the top.
“I don’t think it’s a requirement for a good education, but [modern] facilities can only help,” said Chokshi.
Teachers and staff were also glowing, happy to see the children about to put the new facility to use.
“I’m pretty thrilled that the kids have gone in smoothly,” said principal Nancy Harris.
The youngsters, Harris said, were experiencing a surplus of first-day jitters due to the presence of elected officials and media.
“The first day can be exciting and overwhelming under typical circumstances,” said Harris. “This is definitely an exceptional circumstance.”
The youngsters were all smiles when asked about their new home away from home.
“I really like the Gehry building. It’s like wiggly and has a crack, which is kind of cool,” said second grader Kyle Falls, who was decked out in a tuxedo for the special day.
The space is a lot nicer than the school’s incubator space in the Tweed Courthouse, according to youngster Natalie Boettle.
“It was kind of dark [there]. It’s shiny here,” said Boettle.
The elected officials also complimented the new space.
“It’s just a beautiful place — I didn’t even have a cafeteria when I was going to school!” said NYC Councilmember Margaret Chin. “I think the kids will really enjoy themselves and learn there.”
“The school is just another reminder of how great Lower Manhattan is doing,” said State Senator Daniel Squadron, “and that we need to stay ahead as our community grows.”
The facility is “magnificent,” and reaffirms the revitalization of the neighborhood, echoed Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who received a preview tour of the school last June.
“They’re not learning math by counting rain drops coming through the ceiling or paint peeling off the walls,” the Assembly Speaker said. “It has the latest, high-tech [amenities], and that’s the environment we have to put our children in.”