Schools could find rec relief from Spence


A rendering of the Yorkville athletics facility planned by the Spence School, which would host physical education classes from neighboring elementary schools under a proposed arrangement. Rendering by Rogers Partners
Public schools discuss use of proposed private school gym for phys ed classes
By Michael Garofalo

Students at two Yorkville public elementary schools could soon gain access to much-needed recreational space in a new athletics facility proposed by the Spence School.

Under a prospective arrangement discussed by Spence and public school officials, the 54,000-square-foot athletics complex the Spence School hopes to build on East 90th Street would open its doors to physical education classes from nearby P.S. 151, the Yorkville Community School, and P.S. 527, the East Side School for Social Action.

The Spence School announced plans last year to build the facility as a new home for the prestigious all-girls school’s athletic programs. The proposed 98-foot-tall building would house six floors of athletic and educational spaces, including a regulation-sized basketball court, nine squash courts, locker rooms and coaches’ offices, a student study center and a greenhouse and rooftop planting area for the school’s sustainability program.

The new Spence facility would be located at 412 East 90th St., between First and York Avenues, roughly three-quarters of a mile from the school’s main building at 22 East 91st St., between Fifth and Madison Avenues. The Spence School is in the process of seeking a variance and special permit from the Board of Standards and Appeals to allow the structure to be built at the site, which it purchased in 2011 and is currently occupied by a two-story parking garage.

According to Spence, the proposed facility will provide a permanent home for the schools’ athletic programs, which have outgrown the school’s existing facilities. The school currently utilizes two on-campus gymnasiums, which lack regulation-sized courts for the basketball and volleyball teams and do not have space for bleacher seating, and supplements these spaces by renting several off-campus recreational facilities for its sports teams.

In addition to serving the Spence School’s athletics programs, the new facility would provide gym space for physical education classes from P.S. 151 and P.S. 527 under the terms of a proposed, but yet-to-be-finalized agreement between the schools. The two schools are each located near the proposed site of the new Spence facility and have limited space for physical activities. Students at P.S. 151, located at 421 East 88th St., use two converted classrooms for recreational space, while those at P.S. 527, located at 323 East 91st St., use an auditorium with a sloped floor and low ceiling, said City Council Member Ben Kallos, who described the gym-sharing proposal last week at a public hearing on the project at the Board of Standards and Appeals.

According to Kallos, by the time the new building opens for the 2019-2020 school year, Spence and the Department of Education will enter into an agreement allowing the public schools to use the Spence gymnasium for physical education classes during school hours, at no cost to the schools.