By Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP
Then: Looking west along West 10th Street, the original Village Community School (VCS) at 272 West 10th Street, between Greenwich Street and Washington Street, and its previous expansion to the west, occupies the entire block front, including the playground space at the near corner. VCS is a private educational institution for 350 elementary school students and approximately 95-105 employees, founded in 1970 here in the West Village.
The Village was a very different place in 1970, as this writer can attest first-hand. Picture if you will the abandoned railroad viaduct directly across Washington Street, and the warehouses and seamen hotels along the derelict waterfront of the Hudson River, long past its prime as a maritime powerhouse. Crime was rampant, city services were inadequate, and the city was heading toward bankruptcy. Single story garages were hastily built where residential buildings had once filled the small lots adjacent to the PS107 schoolhouse on 10th Street, vacant from 1963 until June 1970.
Hardy residents who fought for their quality of life, often against a city bureaucracy that seemed intent on erasing the Village’s special character, saw an opportunity in the odd architecture of the original PS107. These parents had to get a variance for this building in order to open the school, because the current zoning laws limited the ‘street wall’ (height of wall facing the street), and the building covered more than the prescribed 85% area allowed.
By 2001, the area had improved, luxury apartments were built, and the Hudson River Park had dramatically opened up extensive recreation areas just a block west. With enrollment increased, again VCS was granted variances to make a building addition. It was constructed to the design of Leo J. Blackman Architects in 2000-03 on the site of a 1946 garage. Designed to blend with the adjacent 1885-86 polychrome school, as well as to meet the cornice line of the adjacent multiple dwellings on Washington Street, the Annex building received awards for contextual design from the Historic Districts Council and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.
This school helped reinforce the case for an extension of the Village’s Historic District, designated in 2006. By picking up on design clues of the 1886 school, such as window composition, multiple masonry colors and types, and comparable volume massing, the thoroughly modern addition blended beautifully with the neighbors.
The neighboring white painted building on the left side is an apartment building with its lot-line windows overlooking the playground.
The total addition floor area of 66,500 square feet (3.67 FAR), occupies the entire corner site, and was designed by Jonathan Marvel, Lissa So, Caroline Frantz, Patrick Hamon, and Cat Travers of Marvel Designs. The rusticated ground floor includes a new ADA-compliant entry to a new lobby and staircase. The regulation-sized gymnasium is visible through the sidewalk level windows. On other floors are a sun-drenched Library at the heart of the school, and classroom spaces for state-of-the-art science labs and makers’ studios specialized for young scientists, engineers and language students. A rooftop play yard, visible here through the top floor openings, replaces the lost surface playground. Above the first floor, the facades are wrapped in red brick that matches the older portions of the total school, and articulate floor lines and bays, breaking up the scale to relate to the neighboring buildings.
Although this private school is expensive for tuition, 22% of its families receive tuition assistance; and 39% of the school’s families are racially diverse.
In fall 2021, Jen Mitchell, Head of School, opened the Eve K. Kleger Wing, the three-story addition dedicated to the memory of the former Head of School.
Brian J. Pape is a LEED-AP “Green” architect consulting in private practice, serves on the Manhattan District 2 Community Board Landmarks Committee and Quality of Life Committee, is Co-chair of the American Institute of Architects NY Design for Aging Committee, is a member of AIANY Historic Buildings Committee, and is a journalist, especially on architecture subjects.