9 Steps Down
“It’s NOT in the basement!” Lynn Appelbaum, the Educational Alliance’s Chief Program Officer, firmly stated to over 60 angry Art School students at the August 31st informational meeting. Lynn was responding to oc2sas’s assertion that the Educational Alliance planned to move the historic Art School from its current spacious and traditional studios on the fifth floor to a much smaller basement space with low ceilings, small windows, and little natural light.
That the Art School would be on the “first” floor instead of the basement was just one of several things Lynn said with seeming certainty at the meeting. For example, she claimed that (save for the elimination of the darkroom and welding studio) the new, post-renovation space for the Art School would be every bit as nice and appropriate as the current one. She claimed that she was sorry she didn’t have with her (or know offhand) any details such as ceiling heights, square footage, or window size that might help students compare the current space to the planned one. She promised to email specific information with measurements of all these things within two weeks to the Art School student body.
She doesn’t have a very good record so far. It turns out that while she was saying all this, she was sitting under a piece of painters tape positioned exactly 9.5 feet off the floor. Two weeks and one day after the meeting when (after repeated requests by oc2sas) she finally sent her long awaited email, it included almost none of the promised information except for — what a coincidence! — the fact that the ceilings in the new Art School would be 9.5 feet high.
So, as previously mentioned (www.oc2sas.wordpress.com/2011/10/17/appels-and-oranges) after a month of little satisfaction from Lynn, oc2sas went ahead and measured the current Art School so we could get a better sense of whether or not Lynn’s claims that the new space would be essentially the same, were accurate. But what about the planned post-renovation space for the Art School? What does that look like? Well, the Educational Alliance is saying very little about that.
Here’s what we have been able to find out on our own about the planned space for the Art School: It will be on what is currently known as the “M” floor (“M” stands for Mezzanine) of the Educational Alliance. It’s not in the original building, it’s in the extension built in the 1960s. Unsurprisingly, 1960’s construction was quite different from that of the 1800’s.
How do you get to the M floor? Two ways. You can enter through the EA main entrance at 197 E. Broadway, cut through the Ernest Rubenstin Gallery, hang a right at the vending machines, walk down one flight (9 steps), and hang a left at the end of the stairwell. Alternatively, you can enter from the Jefferson Street entrance (by the theatre), and then walk down a sloping hallway to get to the main part of the M floor. See the photo on the right? Note how in the bottom of that photo different types of flooring were once laid, presumably to compensate for the rather steep grade change of the floor. Here’s a video of the slope toward the M floor: www.flickr.com/photos/oc2sas/6270439337/in/photostream
This all looks and seems like a basement to us. But, WAIT, don’t you remember? According to Lynn and Danny this is NOT the basement. The Educational Alliance calls the floor the gym is on (another flight down from the M floor) the basement, so that must mean the M floor is something different. Semantics are a wonderful thing!
So if the M floor isn’t the basement, what is it? Is it the first floor like they claim? Not exactly and that’s clear not only from the steps and the slope, but from the windows. Below are three pictures of the M floor windows that were taken outside on Jefferson Street. The left picture highlights the difference between the size of the 5th floor windows and those on the M floor. The middle and right picture show not only how small the windows are but also how the security mesh will further diminish the already low level of natural light. From the picture on the right — which if you examine closely you will see peers inside the building — you can also get a sense of how high up on the wall the windows are (and conversely how the floor of the inside room is below street level).
But maybe the M floor just LOOKS like a basement from the outside. What about the inside of those rooms on the M floor? Does that perspective help us to understand this as the “first” floor as Lynn claims? Not really. The pictures from the inside (see below) just confirm what we already know. There are small windows placed near the ceilings of (most of) the rooms. There are low ceilings — maybe EA is planning to remove the dropped ceilings and the resulting ones will be 9.5 feet high. That’s not going to change the window placement that much though — they will still be relatively high up from the floor. Between their placement and small size it’s clear why the windows don’t provide much natural light and why the M floor clearly is almost totally dependent on flourescent lighting.
This all sounds (and looks) more and more like a basement, similar to the ones common in split level houses or — as far too many New Yorkers are familiar with — the layout of a typical basement apartment. In fact, technically, the M floor isn’t just the basement, New York City classifies it as part of the CELLAR. Here is a copy of the original Certificate of Occupancy for the building (which has a different address than the main building — it’s actually 179 Henry Street). If there was any doubt that the M floor is NOT the first floor, this should end that.
Interestingly, EA has hung in the lobby large artist renderings of the renovated interior spaces. There’s a picture of the fifth floor “multipurpose” room (oddly with what looks like china and silverware settings on the tables), another of what looks like a cardio room of the health and wellness center, a picture of a children’s classroom, and then some lobby pictures and a picture of the entrance. There’s NO picture of the post-renovation Art School. Why not? If the Art School is as “valued” as Lynn claimed it is in the August 31st meeting, if the new space is going to be as wonderful as EA President and CEO, Robin Bernstein, attests it will be on the EA blog — why not show it off? Our only explanation is that the Educational Alliance is trying its best to hide the real truth — that the Art School is being sacrificed and marginalized to a vastly inferior space all so the fifth floor can be converted to a euphemistically called “multipurpose” room with skyline views for when EA rents it out for weddings and holds Board and other VIP functions there.
It’s unnecessary. It’s shameful. But it’s happening unless we do something that convinces the Board of Trustees otherwise. What have YOU done? Here are three ways you can help oc2sas make a difference:
1. Sign the petition.
2. Call: Robin Bernstein, Educational Alliance President & CEO, 212-780-2300 and Russell Makowsky, President , Board of Trustees, 212-715-0300, x130. Let them know sacrificing the Art School for skyline views is unacceptable and unnecessary — a perfectly fine multipurpose room can be built on the M floor without adversely affecting the Art School.
3. Come to the Educational Alliance this Thursday, October 27th at 6pm to let the Educational Alliance know the current planned renovations are a BAD IDEA.