Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Uncommon Charter High School
Address: 1485 Pacific Street
Cross Streets: Brooklyn and Kingston avenues, also Atlantic Avenue
Neighborhood: Crown Heights North
Year Built: 2009
Architectural Style: Very vaguely Colonial Revival-ish? 21st Century American School Moderne? I honestly don’t know what you’d classify this building as.
Architect: Unknown architect from the NYC School Construction Authority
The story: There was pleased excitement in the Crown Heights North community when this school was proposed. Our community is sorely lacking in schools, and its location nearly on the corner of Pacific and Kingston Avenue was welcome, as this part of Kingston Avenue needs all the help it can get to revitalize this once vibrant mixed commercial and residential street. The large plot of land the school is built on was empty for years, with almost no one realizing that this was once the location for one of Brooklyn’s large charitable institutions: the Brooklyn Training School and Home for Girls.
The full story of the Training School was told in a three-part Walkabout; Parts One, Two, and Three. It’s an interesting story of charity and purpose; a school for girls during a time when most charitable institutions concentrated much more on the lives and education of boys. By 1949, however, the school had closed, and sometime later the entire complex was torn down. Nothing was ever built on the site, and a fence stood around it for at least thirty years.
Some kind of charter school for Crown Heights was in the talking stages for years before this site was chosen. With help from the charitable institutions such as the Robin Hood Fund as well as the city and other donors, money was gathered to build this large high school, and the talk became reality. The school took about two years to build, and opened in 2009 with a ninth grade class, and has now expanded to all of the other high school grades.
The design, from what paperwork I could find online, was the brainchild of the NYC School Construction Authority. It’s a modern take on the classic Colonial Revival school building, the kind of schools that are everywhere in America, but this one is modernized and on steroids. Today’s urban schools are not long on windows. With modern HVAC systems taking care of fresh air, the mindset seems to be to make windows small or inaccessible, so as to not distract students with outside stimuli. So this school was built for purpose, not aesthetics. They could have worked on the aesthetics.
It’s an academic fortress, rendered only a little less fortress-like by the pediments above the entrances, which are the only real ornament on the building. Otherwise, it’s pretty austere. The recreation space for the school is on the roof, and there is no outdoor space. According to their website, inside, the school library is reminiscent of a college library, with long tables and closed study carrels. The students also have a corporate-like cafeteria, with mounted TV screens on which loop school announcements.
The curriculum is rigorous, with students putting in a long day, with a lot expected of them academically. A graduate from this school should be ready for anything any college could offer them. Today, the building has three charter schools: Uncommon Charter High School, Brooklyn East Collegiate Charter School, and Achievement First Crown Heights Charter School. GMAP