Students at PS/IS 30, an elementary-intermediate school in Bay Ridge, are getting a history lesson every day just by walking into the school building.
The building, which opened in September, was constructed on the former site of the Bay Ridge United Methodist Church on the corner property where Fourth and Ovington avenues meet.
Its existence is a testament to historic preservation, willpower and the powers of persuasion, according to architecture buffs.
Instead of a school, the site could have become filled with luxury condos, according to Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst).
Gentile spoke about the genesis of the new building at a ribbon cutting ceremony for the school on Oct. 24.
The church, constructed in a Romanesque revival style, had been standing on the corner of Fourth and Ovington avenues since 1899.
In 2008, when the church’s cash strapped congregation decided to sell the property to a developer, Gentile and local preservationists were worried that the site would be converted into condos. “At the time, we desperately needed another elementary school for our community. We all agreed that what we didn’t need was more high priced condos,” Gentile said.
Working with preservationists like the Bay Ridge Conservancy, and with educational leaders like Laurie Windsor, president of the Community Education Council of School District 20, Gentile convinced the New York City Department of Education that the former church site would be a good location for a public school. The councilman and his supporters then convinced the developer to sell and the city purchased the property.
But the work of the preservationists wasn’t done. “You can’t replace the Mona Lisa with any old painting,” Gentile said.
They then had to persuade the New York City School Construction Authority, which would be building a school at the site, to preserve some of the elements of the church building in the construction of the new school building.
As a result of that persuasion, the clock tower from the church was preserved and now stands atop the school building. The church’s stained glass windows grace the structure. And the designers incorporated a look similar to the original serpentine stone façade the church had. Because of the serpentine stone, generations of Bay Ridge residents referred to the Bay Ridge United Methodist Church by its nickname, “The Green Church.”
“No one has let us down. This building is absolutely beautiful,” said District 20 School Superintendent Karina Constantino. “Our children can look at this school building and understand its origin,” she said.
The school was established as an intermediate school, IS 30, in 1997 and was housed for the first 16 years of its existence in a converted apartment building on Ovington Avenue between Fourth and Fifth avenues. The old building, however, had no cafeteria, gymnasium, or school yard.
With the new building’s opening in September, IS 30 became PS/IS 30 and started accepting elementary level students. The students, teachers and administrators happily moved into their new home.
“The transition has really been very smooth,” Constantino said.
The building has room for 700 students. PS/IS 30 shares its space with another school, which educates autistic children. At the ribbon cutting, Windsor told Gary Hecht, superintendent of District 75, the Dept. of Education’s special education program, that she was pleased the school was accommodating autistic children. “This is one co-location the community education council welcomes with open arms,” she said.
Starting in 2016, the kindergarten and first and second grades of PS 30 will move into the former school building on Ovington Avenue. Students in grades three to eight will remain in the new building.
PS/IS 30 Principal Carol Heeraman, who was appointed in 2010, will oversee the transition.
According to Inside Schools, an independent guide to the city’s public schools, the school offers a “superintendent's” class for intellectually gifted students on each grade level, with a math and science focus. It is also one of 20 public schools chosen to be part of the city’s Software Engineering Pilot program offering a special computer science and software curriculum. Eighth graders in the gifted program can take New York State regents exams in history, living environment and Spanish. The algebra regents exam is offered students in both the gifted program and general education students.
For many years, Spanish was the only foreign language offered at the school. A new Arabic program was introduced in September.
Local elected officials said they were pleased to see the new PS/IS 30 open.
"What a great celebration - what a beautiful building - what a great day for District 20!” state Sen. Marty Golden said. “I am proud to have worked to insure that District 20 was a key focus of the Department of Education and the School Construction Authority to add classroom seats here in our ever growing district. I know that IS 30 will long be a school where so many of our youngsters receive a fine education, and where the leaders of tomorrow will be molded,” Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-southern Brooklyn) said.
“This school is a great improvement from the prior building and will have it all, including a cafeteria, gymnasium, playground and library,” said Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-C-Bay Ridge-Staten Island “The expansion of this school to include K-8 also means children will be able to grow together and build stronger friendships with their peers,” she said.