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Preschool Proposed for Williamsburg's Only Historic Block

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It's very rare that a project in Williamsburg—land of vinyl-sided rowhouses and ugly, bland new apartment boxes—comes before the Landmarks Preservation Commission, as the north Brooklyn neighborhood has just a single block that's protected by a historic district. But that single block happens to have a vacant lot that sold to a new owner who now wants to erect a new preschool for all the babies being had by hipsters (and presumably, non-hipsters, too). Martin Finio of Christoff : Finio Architecture presented a proposal for a three-story preschool with a rooftop play area to rise at 2 Fillmore Place on the corner of Driggs Avenue. The school would house 77 students, and per the renderings, it would called The School at Fillmore Place, though names on renderings are hardly etched in stone.

The block is arguably one of the nicest in the neighborhood, populated by 19th century brick houses more associated with neighborhoods like Fort Greene and Carroll Gardens. The proposed building would be primarily glass and Douglas Fir wood with a brick exterior over the stairwell on Driggs Avenue. In order to get enough space for 77 students (instead of 47), they will require a variance from the Bureau of Standards and Appeals (BSA) to increase their space by 1,421 square feet. In order to get a roof capable of housing a play area, they will also need a height variance to add 25 inches.

Finio said that the "scrappier" nature of the area means that no one building stands out and that that means the building's materials are appropriate. He said that the wood provides a sense of nature and said that is essential for a "sense of well-being and belonging." He also referenced the Reggio Emilia approach to education, which says that environment is the "third teacher" after parents and teachers. He added that the reflectivity of the glass would be kept to a minimum and showed renderings to demonstrate this.

The local community board rejected the proposal, saying it was "not contextual," but the LPC leaned toward approval, but could not agree. Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan noted that the lot has been vacant for a long time—more than 40 years—and that development would help the district and said the proposal "fits in quite nicely." Frederick Bland said that "context is in the eye of the beholder," noting that the bulk (or size) was "completely appropriate" and he is "thrilled by the use of new materials." But he also said that the base needed to be made bigger, a concern that was echoed by Margery Perlmutter.

Diana Chapin expressed a big problem with the blank brick portion on the Driggs Avenue side of the building, criticizing it as a poor transition between the glass of the new building and the masonry of the neighboring building. On top of that, she said that she liked the wood, but thought it could be used more effectively and perhaps masonry could be added. Michael Devonshire said he felt "very good about this building" and Roberta Washington also liked it, but, in the end, there just wasn't consensus.

The design team was asked to investigate other possibilities for the color of the Driggs Avenue brick facade to see if there is a way to keep the overall color more in line with the neighborhood and to thicken the base before returning to the LPC.
—Evan Bindelglass is a local freelance journalist, photographer, cinephile, and foodie. You can e-mail him, follow him on Twitter @evabin, or check out his personal blog.
· Fillmore Place Historic District Designation [official]
· Christoff : Finio Architecture [official]
· All Landmarks Preservatin Commission coverage [Curbed]