After two years of construction and a fair share of controversy, Bay Ridge’s new pre-K center has been completed and is ready to open in time for the new school year in September.
The 250 seat facility, located at 369 93rd Street, is on the same block as the controversial Prince Hotel, 315 93rd Street, which has been a hotbed of complaints over the past several years.
A middle-aged man died of a drug overdose inside the premises back in 2016, and the hotel has been fined around $400,000 for violations dating back to 1995, including illegal use as a transient hotel in a residential district.
Still, a Tuesday, August 21 event at the school was a celebratory one. Mayor Bill de Blasio was joined by Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, District 20 Superintendent Karina Costantino, Councilmember Justin Brannan and representatives of the School Construction Authority, among others, to tour the new digs, which will host the Pre-K for All program, and discuss its potential.
“It provides parents a place where they can be guaranteed that their children are safe,” District 20 Early Childhood Director Dianne Gounardes told this paper. “They are really being grounded in social skills because so often we worry about academics but we don’t think about social skills.” The center, she said, will draw on the Reggio Emilia philosophy, which developed in Italy. “It’s a respected program around the world and it’s a great opportunity to have in your backyard.”
The facility, on the site of what was once Hamilton Medical Associates, includes 14 classrooms, interactive whiteboards, an outdoor playground, an indoor multipurpose recreation room and a community meeting room.
“We are so incredibly proud of the District 20 pre-K program,” Gounardes added. “It gives the children such a foundation. We concentrate on developing their social emotional skills and their language acquisition skills so that they’re ready for the rigor and the academics of kindergarten. This building is state-of-the-art. We currently have four classrooms filled. We anticipate filling more, even before school starts.”
De Blasio was impressed with the space and stressed the significance of the facility being in Bay Ridge.
“This is a special way for us to mark the progress and emergence of pre-k here in Brooklyn,” he said. “I remember vividly when we started pre-k, one of the places we needed it was right here. I remember looking at the maps with the folks originally planning it. They said District 20 has this overwhelming need and we have to figure out a way to answer that need. We don’t have enough space. The solution was to create a beautiful early childhood center. In 2014, that was just a dream and today now it’s a reality.”
“For the residents here in Bay Ridge, I want to say this is equity and excellence in action,” added Carranza. “That’s what should be happening in communities across this great city. But we are so proud here in District 20 that we have a state-of-the-art facility where our youngest learners will be able to come and explore, make meaning of the world, play with purpose, and learn how to read and interact with each other so that when they get to kindergarten, they are pushing the envelope.”
“What’s going on in there is insane,” said Brannan. “It’s beautiful. The building really seamlessly fits in with the neighborhood. My friend grew up across the street. It seems like it’s been here forever but it’s brand new. That’s very meaningful to people.”
Additional reporting by Meaghan McGoldrick