For kids at P.S. 151 and P.S. 527, the start of the new school year will come with a fun perk: gym access at The Spence School, a private K-12 all-girls school a few blocks west. Until now, the two public schools had long used converted classrooms and an auditorium in lieu of a gymnasium, which both schools notably lack.
“School children should not be forced to have gym class or recess in closed streets, cafeterias, or classrooms,” said Council Member Julie Menin, who facilitated the gym-sharing arrangement between the Department of Education and the three Upper East Side schools.
The Spence School “Athletic and Educational Facility” at East 90th Street between First and York Avenues — and the vision that its gym would be shared with the two public elementary schools — has been a long time coming. A year after construction plans for the new gymnasium were unveiled in 2016, it was floated as a space that could be shared with P.S. 151 and P.S. 527 students. Then-Council Member Ben Kallos, who was involved in the early negotiations, had predicted the schools would join together in time for the 2019-2020 school year.
The complex didn’t open until 2021, but it boasts a regulation-size gymnasium and nine squash courts, plus a student center, performance space and “ecology center” featuring a greenhouse and rooftop garden. All together, it’s 65,000 square feet of space. Felicia Wilks, head of The Spence School, said sharing it is “an essential part of our mission and Spence’s membership in the Yorkville community.”
For students at P.S. 151 and P.S. 527, finally having a gym to call their own — albeit at a different school — will make a noticeable difference.
“The state-of-the-art facility will offer our teachers the opportunity to introduce new learning experiences to children that will expand their awareness of sports, physical fitness, and teambuilding,” said Kelly McGuire, superintendent of the Department of Education. “We are especially appreciative of the opportunity to use this space during the winter months when getting out of doors to engage in activity is more difficult.”
It’s another win in Menin’s book for local schools, alongside her allocation of $5.5 million to build a “rooftop play space” at P.S. 290.
“School children should not be forced to have gym class or recess in closed streets, cafeterias, or classrooms.” Council Member Julie Menin