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Green Light For Telecom High School’s Building Addition – QNS.com

Green Light For Telecom High School’s Building Addition

By Helen Klein

It’s all systems go for the revised design for the addition to Bay Ridge’s venerable High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology. At a press conference held in the garden of the school, which is located at 350 67th Street, the revamped, more contextual design for the extension was unveiled by City Councilmember Vincent Gentile, who has been working with the school, the School Construction Authority (SCA) and area residents to come up with a design that will help the school meet its needs and also be aesthetically acceptable to area residents. The enlargement, which comprises 16 classrooms, will allow the school, which is significantly over capacity, to vacate trailers currently housed in the park across the street, and also to return the entire auditorium, which now contains 13 classrooms, to its original state, including restoration of the balcony area and an increase in the number of seats from the current 295 to over 900. The new plan departs significantly in appearance from the original plan for the extension, which had called for a facing of concrete blocks intended to simulate the limestone accents on the 1912 school building, rather than utilizing brick similar to that which adorns the school’s façade. In addition, the original plan had called for a four-story glass-enclosed staircase that residents of Senator Street and area activists contended was too jarringly modern — “Incongruous with the school and the block,” noted Eric Rouda, speaking on behalf of the Senator Street Block Association. Senator Street, which has a row of brownstones on each side, is Bay Ridge’s only historic district. The powers-that-be listened, and responded quickly and substantively to the concerns, said Gentile. He noted that, after objections were raised to the modernistic aspects of the original design by area residents, he had contacted SCA President Bill Goldstein and asked for the plans to be reworked. In response, stressed Gentile, SCA, “Took the suggestions that were made and the concerns that were expressed, and significantly revised the plan.” The new plan – which is meant to complement the original design without slavishly mimicking it — calls for the addition to be faced with brick that is similar to that used in the original structure, and for the staircase to be enclosed in brick, with windows along the four stories of the façade. Concrete blocks will be used as accents, along the base of the extension, and between the first and second floors. An angling of the extension, which will parallel Fourth Avenue, and an angling of the staircase enclosure, provide modern touches that make it clear, in a subtle fashion, that the extension is new, not original. Overall, this is good news for Bay Ridge. While acknowledging that the necessity of having adequate space for classrooms requires the aesthetic compromise of altering the stately school façade in the first place, having classrooms in trailers and in the auditorium, Rouda said, “Is not a good situation for the community, not a good situation for our kids.” The redesigned extension, he opined, “I think is going to be acceptable for all concerned.” Victoria Hofmo, the founder of the Bay Ridge Conservancy and the co-chair of Gentile’s preservation committee, agreed. Noting that the original addition, with its glass-enclosed staircase, reminded her of the incongruously modern addition to the Brooklyn Museum, the revised addition, she said, “Is going to be in sync” with the existing structure. “I think it’s a beautiful addition,” she noted. In addition, Hofmo said she had been told by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission that the existence of the extension should not affect the school building’s chances of being landmarked in the future, should that designation be pursued. “The people who did the original design thought that modern was the way to go,” added Susan Pulaski, the co-chair of Gentile’s preservation committee. “We like an older look. And, this is what we’ve accomplished. This kind of sends a message to people that this is what we are looking for in the community.” Gentile agreed, remarking, “This could be a model for other types of construction on other buildings. This is such a beautiful structure, the stained glass windows and beautiful floors, it is something we want to preserve. Any addition to it, we don’t want to look too modern. That’s what we are hoping we can accomplish.” The addition to Telecommunications will be one of the first projects in the new Department of Education capital plan to get underway. Gentile and fellow Councilmember Sara Gonzalez had jointly allocated $400,000 in funding two and a half years ago for a design for the extension, which is included in this year’s capital plan. Because the design was done early, stressed Gentile, construction of the school can begin shortly, while the design of other schools in the capital plan is still being done. Ground-breaking is expected to take place during the summer or fall, according to the principal of Telecommunications, Philip Weinberg. “It’s been an extraordinary process,” remarked Weinberg, adding, “We’re terribly excited that two years from now we are going to have our beautiful auditorium back in its original state and new classrooms. “If we had a shovel today, we’d start now,” he later joked. The total cost of the extension – which is needed because of severe overcrowding at the school — is projected to be in the range of $20 million. One remaining issue is loss of parking, both on Senator Street and on Fourth Avenue, during the two years the construction is expected to take. Stressing the hardship this represents to residents as well as school staff, Rouda asked the school, Community Board 10, the city’s Department of Transportation and Gentile, “To work with us to find alternatives to alleviate the paring issue. It can be done. I think there are ways that the needs of the neighbors and also the staff of the school can be served.” There’s one other loose end, noted Rouda. He pointed out that, to restore one of the auditorium’s rows of stained glass windows which have been removed, SCA is looking for old pictures that represent the way they originally appeared. “If anyone has any old pictures of the auditorium that show the stained glass as it looked originally,” he urged, “please forward them to the councilman or the principal.”

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