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Some Scared by UWS Private School's Backyard Blowout Plans

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The Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School has been a local institution for nearly 250 years, and since 1937 has held classes in a row of interconnected brownstones on West 94th Street near Central Park West. The school may be steeped in tradition, but there are changes afoot! The brownstones are joined by a rear yard to another school building on 93rd Street, and to accommodate all those young brains wandering the grounds, the Prepsters want to makeover the mid-block space between those buildings?or, as they say in urban speak, build-out the garden core within the "doughnut."

Currently the space behind the brownstones is partially built up and covered in asphalt, with everything painted in unrelenting red. Above is a hodgepodge of stairs connected by exposed ramps and passageways made of steel and concrete. The school wants a new outdoor Astroturf play area, built on a raised platform 16' above some ball courts. The school also wants more classroom space up top and a redesigned set of stairs and ramps with an elevator for better and safer access. "Green walls" would go up to soften the edges. Columbia Prep has called on architect Peter Samton from Gruzen Samton to put together the plan, which went before the Landmarks Preservation Commission yesterday (the school lies within a historic district). Some preservationists aren't biting.

Cristiana Peña of Landmark West! (which has made open spaces behind UWS brownstones a hot topic), noted that building on these open spaces can have detrimental effects on the urban environment. In regard to the Columbia Prep proposal, LW! says, "...the build-out would exacerbate the hardscape condition by not only maintaining built space in the rear yard but raising its height and enclosing the space. Plantings and 'living walls' may be proposed to mitigate the negative impacts of this build-out scheme, but they are 'green' in name only. A green-colored roof of artificial turf appears as merely visual dressing to soften the blow, with no truly impactful environmental benefit." Burn!

A Historic Districts Council rep wasn't thrilled with the plan either, noting that, "A number of historic districts have recently been facing the issue of institutional expansions in residential blocks, particularly garden cores," and the "rather temporary looking design takes the rear elevations from bad to worse." But the preservationists didn't offer only spitballs: Both groups were more than pleased that the school plans to strip the red paint and return the rear facades of the brownstones to natural brick. LPC will consider Columbia Prep's plan and a vote on the proposal in the near future.
· Columbia Prep Draws Ire Over Planned Addition, Fire Escapes [NYO]
· Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School [cgps.org]

Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School

20 West 94th Street, New York, NY