BY JON CRONIN
At PS 81 in Ridgewood, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Monday an initiative to create physical education spaces in all New York City schools by 2021 and to add air conditioning in each school by 2022.
For the 76 schools that do not have a gym, the city will spend $385 million over the next four years in capital funding, $105.5 million in new capital funding and $1.8 million to lease space for schools without space for physical education. To install air conditioning in every school would cost the city $28.75 million over the next five years.
PS 81 is among the oldest schools in the city. Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Long Island City) said that when she was a child in the early 1960s, her mother would not send her to PS 81 because it was too old and overcrowded. She went to a local parochial school instead.
Today, there are only 11 air conditioners in the school and the multi-purpose room on the fifth floor serves as a makeshift gym.
De Blasio announced that air conditioners would be immediately installed in the often-stuffy school and that, next year, the School Construction Authority (SCA) would break ground for a new gymnasium in the building’s yard, where three trailers currently stand.
“I can’t tell you how much it means to have air conditioning,” said Shamika Martir, the treasurer of PS 81’s PTA. “In June and September, this building can be a very difficult place to spend a day.”
She added that, on those hot days, classrooms are traded so students can take turns in air-conditioned rooms.
The mayor stated that both the physicality involved in the use of a gym and comfortable aid of air conditioning keep students attentive. He noted that some schools have gyms and air conditioning, while others are without such amenities.
“It is a level of inequality that makes no sense for the greatest city on Earth,” he said.
Despite a 1957 mandate for physical education in the city, there are currently 76 schools—16 of them in Queens—with no gym space and approximately 120 with inadequate space, de Blasio said. The SCA will focus on those initial approximately 200 schools.
The city’s Department of Education will also refocus on having physical education teachers in the school as well as better training for those who currently teach the subject.
Lorraine Grillo, president of the School Construction Authority, said that schools that do not have space available for a new gym may have rooms repurposed for physical education.
“Every student needs quality physical education to stay healthy and remain focused during the school day,” Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said. “Not only are we committing to providing all students with PE space, but we are also strengthening physical education curricula with more trained PE instructors and new educational resources. This is part of equity and excellence in all our schools and setting students up for success.”
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