Glimpsing the Future of Grace Church School’s New Building at Cooper Square

Renderings courtesy of Grace Church School

Over 115 years after it began as an all-boys choir boarding school, Grace Church School is adding a new high school division this fall. The school is currently renovating a building at 38-50 Cooper Square and accepting applications to its first ninth grade class, which will have up to 80 students. The deadline for applicants is next Thursday, Dec. 15.

Sandwiched between N.Y.U. (the building’s previous occupant) and Cooper Union, and located across the street from the new Preschool of the Arts, the new high school will be part of a complete transformation of Cooper Square that includes the unveiling of a new park and pedestrian plaza that the school will help maintain parts of along with Cooper Union.

ClassroomJessica Bell Head master of Grace Church School, George P.
Davison tours the renovations.

The school signed a 95-year lease with commercial real estate group Hartz Mountain and is working with the Landmarks and Preservation Commission while renovating the building, which is part of the NoHo Historic District. Last week, 14 brownstone awnings that had protruded from it for decades were removed to make room for a new school awning. The buildings’ original long front windows will be restored with the commission’s blessing.

Remodeling of the lower level and the first and second floors will yield a cafeteria, library and information center, auditorium, art studios, writing and math and science centers, and plenty of space where students can “hang,” said headmaster George P. Davison. The first phase of construction should be completed in June, with classes beginning by September.

“The progress we’ve made is really amazing,” Kate Marcus, communications director for the school, said of the transformation of the space since last June.

Parents of students at the lower school at 86 Fourth Avenue have been asking for a new school for years. In 2006, with the number of children in lower Manhattan rising in recent years, the school began plans to expand.

Grace Church SchoolJessica Bell The school’s Fourth Avenue location.

“There has been no school that our kids go to naturally [after eighth grade],” Mr. Davison said. “We felt that what we do here isn’t available at the secondary level. There’s lots of great schools in New York City, but they’re just different. There are other schools out there where the ethos is for kids to get to the front of the line.”

The Grace Church School focuses on instilling a commitment to values, community, and service work – a tradition that will continue on at the high school. Its academic model hinges on 80-minute instruction blocks that allow students more in-class work time with instructors. The school is also in conversation with Cooper Union about letting its students take courses there, and with N.Y.U. about employing graduate students as tutors.

“We’re in a very exciting downtown location,” said Hugo Mahabir, head of the high school. “We’re a high school that’s going to be part of a larger academic community – this downtown university community.”

He added, “We intend to take the students out into the city and bring the city into our school.”

The second and third phases of renovation will develop the third and fourth floors of the building, creating drama and music studios and a gymnasium on the top floor. Mr. Mahabir said that the project’s completion date hinges on fundraising, but should come in 2016.

Grace Church School opened in 1894 as an all-boys choir school, and allowed more neighborhood boys into the school in the 30s. By 1940 the school became co-ed. While attached to the episcopal Grace Church on Broadway, where students have chapel services twice a month, the school is non-denominational, taking students of all faith or no faith at all.