By Nathan Duke
Three music industry legends joined hundreds of teachers, students and residents in Astoria this week for the long-awaited unveiling of the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts’ new building along 35th Avenue. The institution had been waiting eight years for a permanent home.
Singer Tony Bennett and his wife, Susan Benedetto, had first come up with the idea for the public school 10 years ago, but the arts-centered institution had been based out of Long Island City’s International Design Center building on Thompson Avenue since it opened in 2001.
Bennett, who grew up in Astoria, joined a slew of western Queens elected officials and city Schools Chancellor Joel Klein as well as music legends Nancy Sinatra and Quincy Jones at a Monday ribbon-cutting ceremony for the school’s new state-of-the-art building.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Bennett said. “I’ve traveled all over the world — Paris, Rome and Palm Springs, but my favorite place is Astoria.”
Benedetto said Bennett helped raise money for the site through both the public and private sectors. From the beginning, he wanted the school to be named after Frank Sinatra, who was a close friend, she said.
“We wanted to create a building that would inspire students to dream big,” Benedetto said. “This is a very proud moment for us. Now that the school has a permanent home, it will make many dreams come true.”
At the ceremony, the city also renamed a section of 36th Street at 35th Avenue as Tony Bennett Plaza.
Nancy Sinatra said the school was a fitting tribute to her legendary father.
“I guarantee he’d have been absolutely thrilled,” she said of the school. “He’d said that he wanted to pass along what he knew and I’d like to think this school is doing that.”
The school, which has a total of 720 students, combines a typical city public school curriculum with a pre-conservatory arts program. The school has one of the city’s highest graduation rates and many of its students go on to study at high-profile institutions, such as The Juilliard School and Columbia University, Frank Sinatra Principal Donna Finn said.
The school’s new five-story building includes state-of-the-art classrooms, a media center with film editing equipment, two dance studios, music studios with recording booths, a roof garden with a permanent stage and an 800-seat theater.
“In this city, for all the kids in every neighborhood public education is a game changer,” Klein said. “This sends such a powerful message to students: Kids who are not given everything in life can achieve great things if they dream big.”
Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.