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Julia Richman Education Complex

About this listing

Restored school building now successfully housing six small schools

Place Details

Borough : Manhattan
Neighborhood : Upper East Side
Institution, Education

Place Matters Profile

On The Web

Julia Richman Education Complex website


Donna Nevel

We are nominating the Julia Richman High School building because it exemplifies the public in public education. It was built at a time (1923) when the existence of public school buildings made a statement: that public schools were critically important places to reside in a community as symbols of our democracy.

For decades, Julia Richman was known as the premier girls' school -- educating young women who sought a career at a time when women often didn't go to school past their elementary years. Over the decades there were thousands of "Julia Richman girls." New Yorkers regard the building as a special reminder of their family's history.

In 1995 the single high school building was redesigned to house several small schools-- four high schools, a pre K to 8 elementary school and a special program for children with autism. The building has been beautifully restored and represents an exciting and inviting educational environment. Now Julia Richman High School is known as the Julia Richman Education Complex.

Today the complex houses an arts center, dance studios, an infant toddler center, gyms, theaters, darkrooms, ceramics studio and six autonomous schools that serve a diverse population. Each school has created a unique environment to serve its particular student body.

The Julia Richman Education Complex is the product of bygone era that has been successfully redesigned and restored to serve contemporary educational needs. It is an educational treasure as well as an architectural gem. The building matters not only to the students, staff and families who work in it daily, but is also a valuable asset to the surrounding community. Its gyms, swimming pool, auditorium, mini theater, art gallery and other spaces serve diverse needs. And, in the midst of an increasingly high rise neighborhood, it stands solid -- a symbol of the importance of public school buildings in our society.

As one educator who has brought hundreds of visitors to the building put it, "JREC is not only the jewel in the NYC system, it is the crown jewel of urban secondary education in the United States."

The building's physical details matter enormously. The Julia Richman Education Complex has been uniquely redesigned to serve six schools that, while operating as autonomous units, also collaborate to serve students effectively.30 million dollars of public money have been spent renovating the complex. The roof, the windows, the plumbing, the gym floors -- all have been replaced and many new spaces created. The private sector has also contributed substantial sums fgor the renovation of the library, construciton of the art gallery and installation of a high tech sound system in the auditorium.

Spaces are high, wide, and airy, and unlike many modern school buildings, allow students to feel comfortable as they pass through its halls. These are not constructed from sheet-rock and cement; rather there is beautiful marble, wood and wrought iron throughout the building. A new building might house schools, but it could never replicate the physical beauty and grandeur of the place.

Hundreds of visitors from all over the nation, and abroad, come to the Complex t o learn how a large older city school building can be effectively redesigned into a safe space that promotes academic excellence. JREC serves as a bright and shining blueprint and symbol of educational possibility.

In an astonishing act of betrayal and arrogance, Hunter College and the Department of Education have developed plans to demolish the 80 year old restored Julia Richman Education Complex and to replace it with a high rise building housing science labs. In secret deals only recently exposed, a plan was laid out to demolish and relocate JREC's six schools at a site that Hunter will abandon. If Hunter's plan is realized, it will have destroyed one of NYC's architectural treasures and one of the nation's most successful educational communities. In addition, the neighboring community will lose a valuable asset -- a public institution that provides outstanding venues for concerts, sports activities, theater productions and meetings.

(February 2007)

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