By Dan Guarino
On Thursday, September 7, the Broad Channel community celebrated something even more special than a new school year. Excited students, teachers, staff, Parents Association members and BC residents greeted a just completed brand-new PS/MS 47 Chris Galas School building.
Stepping into the spacious new lobby for the first time, students looked around in eager wonder at their new home. Principal Heather Lorenz says, “As they walked in, their eyes widened, and you heard ‘Oooh!’ and ‘Oh my goodness!’ The kids truly just love it!”
Parents were equally excited, with one posting a video from an upper school floor looking out over western Broad Channel and Jamaica Bay. “This is the view from my son’s classroom in his new school!” she stated.
Lorenz, principal since 2015, credits the dedicated PS/MS 47 Parents Association “constantly looking for ways to support our students.” PA President Jessica Guttieri not only joined her to personally greet and direct students on that first day, but volunteers also worked hard to decorate the lobby with red, blue, green, yellow, and sparkling balloons and welcoming banners.
The principal also relates it was the Parents Association which arranged to have scissors handy and ribbons across each classroom doorway, so each and every class’s students could have their own special ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Lorenz, who has been principal since 2015, explains PS/MS 47 serves some “270 students from 3K and Pre-K all the way up to 8th Grade.” They are supported by a team of approximately 60 teachers, paraprofessionals, service providers, office staff and building personnel.
“Education is ever changing, ever evolving,” she says. “Every day we learn how to better serve our students.” Reflecting this the new building, which extends three floors up on one side and four on the other, features about 17 newly designed classrooms. There are specialized facilities designed and dedicated to art instruction, ENL/ESL i.e., English as a new or second language, a science lab and space for services for special needs and other students.
No longer featuring ridge desk rows, all rooms are designed for a free flow of activities including teaching and student collaboration. The continuity of design even extends to the all-new furniture. As Lorenz explains, this helps students comfortably feel they are “still part of the same school” as they progress up the grades.
The new building, she says, “is about 200 sq. ft. larger than the original PS/MS 47. The new design also includes a very large lobby and front desk, nurse’s office strategically situated on the first floor, comfortable teachers’ lounge/prep room and new business-like offices. The PS/47 library and media center contains some 5,200 books with more on the way.
The top floor gym, where all students and teachers begin their day, also functions also as a 297-seat auditorium, with 81 individual seats on mechanically retractable bleachers, 200 plus chairs, new sound system and full stage capable of supporting all kinds of performances.
On the ground floor a greatly expanded lunchroom is ready to serve the students, with a purposely thought-out mix of round and rectangular tables, exits directly outdoors to the schoolyard plus a large screen television to show students movies when weather does not permit going outdoors. Maximizing existing space, “the new schoolyard is huge.”
Far in advance of the old building it has replaced, the new school boasts a gleaming new kitchen, serving area and full staff. Previously, without such facilities, student meals had to be prepared at other schools and brought to PS/MS 47 to heat and serve later. “Now they actually cook and prepare all food right here fresh every day,” Principal Lorenz points out.
All meal items are preservative free, appetizing, and healthy, and breakfasts and lunches are free and available to all students.
“The school is amazing!” Broad Channel Civic Association President Dan Mundy stated in the newest community newsletter. “This is really a tremendous asset to our town and for our children and will be used for generations to come!” Mundy arranged with Lorenz for her to address the BCCA’s monthly meeting on Thursday, September 28. There, showing specially taken photos of BC’s new school, she was able to give the whole community a personal guided ‘tour.’
As Mundy and Lorenz note, the new school building’s homecoming has been years in the making. The original school, located on Power Road, Lorenz explains, was built in the late 1950’s. A two-story ‘temporary’ addition “was put in in 1991-92. It was supposed to have a life-span of 20 years. It was here for over 30. The fight to get a new building went on for years.”
Both credit then-Parents Association President Sabrina Gross with leading efforts get those structures replaced, pursuing the issue with the Department of Education, elected officials and others.
“The School Construction Authority commissioner at that time was Lorraine Grillo and we owe her a debt of thanks as well,” Mundy adds. She “got personally involved to ensure we had tremendous input into the design” and made arrangements for students and staff to use the former Stella Maris High School in Rockaway while demolition of the old and building of the new commenced. Students and staff departed Broad Channel February 12, 2021.
Thanks also go to NY State Senator Joseph Addabbo, Assemblywoman Stacey Amato and Councilwoman Joanne Ariola for their ongoing support, and to the school’s surrounding neighbors for their patience during construction.
Principal Lorenz reflects, “I think our school very much reflects the community. It’s a family vibe. Everyone here looks at these as ‘our’ kids.”
She notes even residents who no longer have children in the school, tell her “If there’s anything you need, just let us know.”
“It’s close-knit. It’s warm, inviting,” she says of the island community.
And so as a new school year and a new chapter begins, parents, teachers, students, staff and the Broad Channel community welcome ‘their’ new PS/MS 47 Chris Galas School.
Photos by Dan Guarino