On February 1, a crowd of 300 educators, politicians, and journalists got a crash course in what big, ambitious doses of money can do for private education. From the team that created the not-entirely-successful Edison Schools project led by Chris Whittle and Benno Schmidt, Avenues: The World School is a K -12 independent school focused on “individualized, personalized instruction” as well as all things international. Where a generation or so ago the buzz words in education were community and diversity, Avenues will promote “mastery” and “early success.” The first slide in the powerpoint noted that 200,000 Americans currently study Mandarin, while in China, 300,000,000 have already learned English.
Avenues’ new home will be a retrofitted warehouse on 10th Avenue designed by Cass Gilbert in 1928. Perkins Eastman, architects of record, and Bonetti/Kozerski Studio will preside over the transformation of the 215,000-square-foot, 10-story concrete industrial beauty that sits alongside the High Line between 25th and 26th streets. Listing clients as including Todds, the Ford Models, and Andre Balazs Properties, Enrico Bonetti noted that his firm was selected because they had never designed a school interior. (Perkins Eastman has done over a dozen.) The idea is to give the space a “Chelsea loft feeling” including large community rooms, some with 30-foot ceilings, at the center of each 20,000-square-foot floor. These well-lit social, study, and meeting spaces will apparently stand in for libraries. At the entrance, a grand staircase—a popular pedagogical gesture, these days—will ascend three flights providing immediate views of the High Line at the top. The cafeteria will take even more advantage of the elevated park with terraces that hang over it as closely as possible.
Throughout, concerted efforts will be made to take advantage of the city—and the building itself—for teaching moments. Whittle described how the structure’s concrete columns diminish in size with each floor as engineers at the time adjusted their load bearing requirements. Getting students to analyze the percentage change or calculate the cement used, he said, could easily be incorporated into the curriculum, as will “recreation” on the High Line, although that plan will probably be stifled once teachers see the No Running signs. “It will be the first purpose-built school aligned to reflect a curriculum,” according to Dominic Kozerski.
With a $75 million budget, $60 million for infrastructure, Avenues is scheduled to open in the Fall of 2012. The goal after that is to build two more schools per year for a total of 20 Avenues around the world.