The Julia Richman Complex

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Why the Julia Richman Education Complex Should Stay Where It Is and Hunter Should Build Its Science Facility Elsewhere

When two public institutions clash over the issue of “real estate,” the public needs to examine both sides from the perspective of the public good: What will be destroyed? What will be gained? What ethical issues need to be considered?

The proposal made by Hunter College President Raab to demolish the Julia Richman Education Complex (JREC) for the purpose of building a science facility for Hunter College poses just such a dilemma.

In 1995, before Julia Richman was redesigned and renovation work had begun, Hunter College could have had the building easily. Hunter did not want it. Now that the building is a state-of-the-art facility and has become a home to children from infants and toddlers to high school graduates, Hunter College wants it!

Raab’s stated goal is to locate a science facility within walking distance of Hunter’s main campus. To procure her goal she is willing to sacrifice a successful, nationally acclaimed campus of six schools serving close to 2000 elementary and secondary students – mostly low income children of color. Perhaps Raab assumed that JREC was plagued by some of the problems that afflict other public schools: poor academic standing, plummeting graduation rates, inadequate or rotting facilities, and unstable faculty with inexperienced administrators.

Apparently Raab has never taken the trouble to visit the Julia Richman Education Complex. If she had, she would have found out that it is a nationally recognized model of urban school reform – a model serving mostly children of color. Its many successes reaching students who have traditionally been underserved is well documented by such reputable institutions as Stanford University, Teachers College Columbia, Harvard School of Education, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

A few facts that Raab ignored but that the public must consider:

  • JREC students graduate at rates that exceed city and state percentages! (Some, in fact, now attend Hunter College for their undergraduate and graduate education.)
  • JREC provides four small high schools in a geographical area that lacks sufficient choices for neighborhood families. Although JREC, like other NYC public high schools, is open to students throughout the city, nearly 20% of its students come from the immediate neighborhood. It’s incredible to think that at a time when the city is desperately seeking much needed space for children, Raab would advocate destroying a building that provides that space for close to 2000 students.
  • If Raab’s proposal were ever effected, the Ella Baker School, the elementary and middle school located in JREC, would cease to exist. It was specifically designed for the children of working parents at Sloan Kettering, Cornell Medical Center, Hunter College, to name a few of the community’s institutions that JREC serves.
  • JREC is the site for P226, one of the city’s public middle and high schools for children with autism. Learning the skills needed for independent living is a crucial part of the children’s education. For the past ten years, P226 children have developed these skills through field placements in the JREC neighborhood. Suitable placements for teenagers with autism do not appear overnight—they take years to develop. The P226 faculty has worked hard to cultivate the opportunities in JREC’s neighborhood, and it has become highly supportive and welcoming.
Sending children with autism to FDR Drive & 25th Street is a totally inappropriate option and illustrates the callousness of the Raab proposal.

  • All students in JREC are serviced by the Mt. Sinai Adolescent Health Center, which has been the primary health provider for many JREC adolescents. This facility will not be relocated to 25th St. Its essential services -- care for asthmatic children, reproductive health, psychological counseling -- would no longer be available to JREC children.
  • The four high schools in JREC have created dozens of service learning placements within the local community. Some of these placements result in summer employment and long-term financial support for the school (e.g. Weil Gotshal and Manges, Fox 5). Such placements have taken years to establish and will be impossible to duplicate.
Raab lacks a persuasive, ethical basis for her proposal.

Why would someone even think of disrupting public schools that work so well and serve those children even the Mayor agrees have been underserved? The majority of JREC students are Hispanic and African American children whose prior education was in overcrowded classrooms with young and inexperienced teachers. Their very education is at stake. For many, attending high school in the Complex with service learning opportunities, and now, its welcoming neighborhood, has made the difference between dropping out of school and successfully completing high school and going on to college.

Critically important to these students’ success is JREC’s accessibility to public transportation. The proposed new location is far less accessible for young students. Why does President Raab believe that the convenience of adult students and college faculty trumps the needs of much younger children? With so much at stake for these young people, it is shocking to hear Hunter’s President call for the demolition of the building to satisfy the demands of “proximity”! Colleges across the nation - Kenyon College, Yale University, Cornell University to mention just a few - routinely build science facilities away from the main campus. A simple shuttle bus arrangement such as that used by Columbia and NYU (up 1st, down 2nd) could efficiently transport faculty and students from the main campus to the science and dorm facility. Such a service was available to students and staff until Hunter cut back the service and raised the fare - a cynical move designed to create support for its uptown proposal. Thus, Raab proposes to jeopardize the continued success of six successful schools just to put its science building within walking distance of its 68th Street campus. It seems equally strange - given future space needs of a growing college - that Hunter would give up one million square feet of property in a city becoming increasingly short on affordable space. As Hunter gives up land on which to expand, won’t future tax payers be asked to pay the costs of shortsightedness now?

Other than proximity the only argument offered in support of the proposal has been the claim that JREC will be replaced by a so called state-of- the-art building at the 25th Street location. What Raab and Hunter consistently fail to recognize is the fact that JREC is already a state-of-the-art building.

The Complex now includes:

  • A user-friendly library sponsored by donations from the private sector
  • Two gyms (one equipped with Project Adventure apparatus)
  • A 1500-seat auditorium equipped by MTV with state-of-the-art sound equipment
  • Dance studios
  • Mini theater
  • Black box theater
  • Art gallery
  • Pottery studio
  • Greenhouse
  • Photography lab
  • Culinary arts facility
  • Distance learning facility
  • Swimming pool
In addition, $30 million of taxpayers’ money has been spent over the last 12 years on renovating JREC:

  • New windows
  • New tuck pointing
  • New roof
  • New heating system
  • New lighting
  • New stage floor
  • New stage curtains and catwalk
  • New gym floors
  • New sidewalks
  • New doors
  • New paint
  • Refinished wood floors
  • Refinished ceramic tile
  • New skylight
  • New student lounge
  • New basement practice rooms
  • New band room
  • New indoor play space
Raab also disregards the collaboration of public and private funding that made the renovation of JREC possible. What good is served when private contributions, once courted, are so easily cast aside?

Jennifer Raab’s plan is ill-conceived, misguided, and some may add, unethical. For the public good, the Julia Richman Education Complex should continue to serve the children and the neighboring community.

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