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`Big Apple' School Designs Shine

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PUBLIC School No. 5, under construction in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, represents an effort by the New York City Board of Education to completely rethink the teaching space in its new elementary and secondary schools.

Surging immigration has fueled the need for additional schools. With a student population pushing 1 million students (close to an all-time high), and more than 40,000 students entering the system each year, four city districts are bursting at the seams and 28 others are stretched.

The Board of Education first considered developing a single prototype school, a "cookie-cutter" design. "Within a week, we decided that this really wasn't going to work for us," says Rose Diamond, director of the Board of Education's Office of Strategic Planning, Division of School Facilities. "We don't get full-block sites like you had in the 1920s.... We decided that we needed a modular prototype building that could be adapted to a variety of sites," she says.

Architect George Luaces worked on the prototype developed by the New York architectural firm of Gruzen Samton Steinglass, one of four firms chosen to create school designs for the Board of Education. .

"We looked at the basic rectangular classroom space and asked, `What are the parts that make up the classroom? How does the classroom function?' " Mr. Luaces says.

They found three "subspaces" within the classroom: the instructional space, where the teacher faces students at a blackboard; an independent study zone, where more intimate and focused study takes place; a service zone, including computers, a wardrobe, sink, drinking fountains, and cabinets.

To organize the three functions within a single room, Luaces explains, they took the traditional rectangular classroom shape and "jolted" it. (See diagram on Page 13.)

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