A week after the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the Chabad School’s controversial expansion on West 86th Street, residents voiced their opposition to Columbia Grammar and Prep’s plan for growth.
Much like recent plans for the Chabad School, the Dwight School and York Prep, Columbia Grammar wants to build a rear structure in the “donut,” the collective backyards of a landmarked block that forms a rectangle of green space. The school, at 5 W. 93rd St. between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue, wants to build a five-story glass structure with a one-story rooftop addition in the backyard.
At an Oct. 8 Community Board 7 meeting, neighbors wearing stickers with their addresses said they felt the project would infringe on
their personal space and ruin the character of the landmark-designated area. For landmarked buildings, nearby resident Carol Gould argued, the significance of the backyard, is as important as the front façade.
“It’s troubling, a little bit, that charming architectural details will be destroyed,” said Gould, who lives at 333 Central Park West. “The architect who designed [the school’s brownstone] had consideration for the back as well as the front.”
Residents also voiced concern about other effects of the proposed expansion: increased noise from additional rooftop air conditioners to cool the space, lights on after-school hours that would filter through the glass and kids playing right outside their windows.
Martie Barylick, an educator who lives nearby, referred to the proposed glass structure as an “unavoidable fishbowl of school activity.”
“We are no longer living in a historical neighborhood,” she said. “We are living in the school.”
Representatives from Columbia Grammar, however, said the glass would be frittered to allow light inside but not be completely translucent. The school is planning to come back to Board 7’s landmarks and preservation committee to show sample materials from the project.
Because the school is in a landmark-protected area, the community board is required to review the project, though its vote is only advisory—the Landmarks Preservation Commission will give final approval. The project does not need approval from the City Council or the city’s planning commission.
“The real issue is, what does this glass wall accomplish? It is totally out of character,” said Steve Abrams, who lives at 33 W. 93rd St.
Columbia Grammar says the expansion will protect students who have go outside to reach some classrooms. The glass structure, which will have enclosed and exposed greenery, was also intended to bring light into classrooms.
Though residents suggested that a brick enclosure would be more contextual with neighboring brownstones, Howard Weiss, a lawyer and spokesperson for the school, said glass would have a minimal impact on the neighborhood. Weiss added that the Landmarks Preservation Commission staff felt the glass enclosure was a workable project.
“They thought it was reasonable and something we could take to the commission,” Weiss said.
Columbia Grammar decided to forgo a committee vote during the Oct. 8 meeting and said it planned to come back to the board for another presentation. The school hired an acoustical engineer to propose noise-reduction measures that will be included in an amended proposal.
“We think that to great extent the concerns [of neighbors] are unfounded,” Weiss said. “But because Columbia Grammar and Prep is a good neighbor, we are looking at the issues raised.”
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