Best K-12 Education

In the middle of the last decade, New York came up with a plan to upgrade two of its aging public schools and to lease the valuable air rights above them to a condo developer. Two years after breaking ground, the first phase of that massive project is completed—a new 385,000-sq-ft school building that houses Public School 59 and the High School of Arts and Design under one roof. (The condo tower is up next for the mixed-use project, which media reports peg at about $700 million.)

With 13 stories above ground and three below, the school building has a facade marked by black and white metallic bands framing large windows, for a look that suggests computers stacked atop one another. Inside, the project team has created the appearance of extra roominess by using ramps that connect to mezzanine levels, with the passage of students visible from the street.

With the new facility, P.S. 57, which had temporarily relocated to East 63rd Street, has boosted its enrollment to 730 students from 500. The Arts and Design school, which for years was around the corner on Second Avenue, still enrolls 1,400. The two schools are separated at the fifth floor, and the sidewalk level is taken up by a 38,000-sq-ft Whole Foods grocery store that opened last spring.

What made the project tricky, says Gibson Craig, an engineer with DeSimone Consulting Engineers, was how deep the company had to excavate into the Manhattan schist below the structure. The building has a 65-ft-wide auditorium, whose double-story height is column free. The trusses around it support the weight of hundreds of students and their teachers as well as an 8,000-sq-ft fourth-floor gym, whose boards are girded against vibrations from dribbling balls and running feet.

But the hard completion deadline for the start of the 2012-2013 school year was, perhaps, the project's biggest challenge, Craig says. "It was a tight couple of months," he says, "but classes started on time this September."

In fact, the job, which required about 660,000 man-hours, came in ahead of schedule and under budget. Craig links those achievements to the use of prefab metal panels on the framing; this was a departure for the School Construction Authority, which usually builds with brick.

A new 385,000-sq-ft school building houses Public School 59 and the High School of Arts and Design.

250 East 57th Street, New York

Key Players

Owner/Developer: NYC School Construction Authority/Worldwide Holdings Co.

General Contractor/Construction Manager: Gotham Construction

Structural Engineer: DeSimone Consulting Engineers

Lead Designer: Skidmore, Owings and Merrill

Civil Engineer: Langan Engineering & Environmental Services

Structural Engineer: DeSimone Consulting Engineers

MEP Engineer: Buro Happold Consulting Engineers

Submitted by: DeSimone Consulting Engineers

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