Hanging gardens of Brearley

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School unveils design details of its $1 million plan to rebuild and jazz up the long-loathed overhang above the East River Esplanade


  • A rendering of an elevated platform on the East River Esplanade included as part of a $1 million plan to enliven the long-dead space under the Brearley School's playground. Rendering: Brearley School / Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects PC

  • This overhang structure along the East River Esplanade at 83rd Street, enveloped in pigeon netting, is one of the Upper East Side's most detested eyesores. The Brearley School, which uses the overhead platform as a playground for its students, is about to spend $1 million to rebuild it. Photo: Douglas Feiden


No more dark shadows, pigeon droppings, hideous-looking netting, leaking brown water, rusted steel columns and cracked and flaking concrete.

Say goodbye to that dismal floodlighting, unsightly chicken-wire fencing — and the overall prison-like appearance of one of the Upper East Side’s worst eyesores.

The Brearley School on May 10 presented its long-awaited blueprints for the rehabilitation of the 3,720-square-foot, steel-and-concrete platform it leases from the city above the John Finley Walk on the East River Esplanade between 82nd and 83rd Streets.

Designed by Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects PC, the preliminary plans call for a “hanging garden concept” that would enliven the 100-foot long, 40-foot wide, city-owned structure, and its underbelly – the part pedestrians pass beneath. There are two proposed color schemes, one blue and one green.

The designs haven’t been finalized yet, and Brearley, which has agreed to pay $1 million to rebuild the 79-year old structure, is expected to fine-tune them.

But the proposed elements for the reconfigured platform — known as “The Pier” or “The Overhang” — unveiled to the public by the private all-girls school include evergreen vines, shrubs and groundcover, coastal grasses, green screens, ornamental bulbs and multi-stem, deciduous tree in 36-inch planters.

So what’s the optimal color for the overhead platform, which Brearley uses as a playground for its students? Should it be environmental green or sky-blue?

“I prefer the blue,” said City Council Member Ben Kallos, who represents the area.

“It creates an element of looking up at the sky, it provides a lighter color, and it references both the water and the sky,” he added. “But I’m just one of the 168,000 people in the district who are entitled to an opinion.”

Actually, Kallos played a central, if backstage, role in the process that led to Brearley’s commitment to spruce up The Pier.

Its most recent 20-year lease had expired in October 2015, and Kallos asked the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which negotiates with private parties leasing city property, to ensure that any lease renewal require Brearley to make capital improvements, take responsibility for maintenance and provide accountability to the community.

After two years of back and forth talks between Brearley, DCAS and Kallos, a deal was hammered out:

The school agreed to invest $1 million in the structural and aesthetic rehabilitation of The Pier, and its annual rent for the waterfront aerie jumped from a mere $8,022 to $32,000. In return, it signed a 20-year lease with two 10-year renewal options, meaning it can retain tenancy of the elevated space until at least 2058.

Three months of capital construction are expected to begin by June 2019, and project completion is anticipated by the September 2019 start of the next school year, the school said.

“I will finally be able to walk by without having anything dripping or falling on my head,” Kallos said.

East Siders who prefer blue or green, or otherwise want to comment or offer suggestions on the project, can write Brearley at facilitiesproject@brearley.org.


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