Great Oaks NYC Finds New Long Term Home

August 24, 2022

Great Oaks Charter School Move to Former Catholic School Building

Signs 30 Year Lease in the West Village, Plans $5m in Building Improvements

The Great Oaks Charter School of New York City will be moving to 240 Bleecker Street in the West Village in the summer of 2023. Great Oaks NYC will bring its students into a school building that had been affiliated with the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, until that school closed in August of 2020 in the wake of the pandemic.

Great Oaks’ Executive Director, Timberly Wilson, was effusive about the new facility, “We are excited to join the Greenwich Village community. We think that this school building will provide us with the platform to be a national showcase for our approach to teaching and learning which has high-dosage tutoring and mentorship at its center.” Students at Great Oaks have the support of tutors in English Language Arts and Math as part of their regular school day; the tutors are recent college graduates who provide a year of service through the federal AmeriCorps program. AmeriCorps members who are a part of the GO Foundation receive a modest living allowance and free housing.

The church at Our Lady of Pompeii was built in 1926 to serve Italian-American immigrants and continues to be the cornerstone of the community that Bishop Scalabrini established so many years ago. Pompeii offers regular weekly masses in Italian and in Portuguese, embracing its heritage. “We look forward to welcoming the Great Oaks students and families into our community,” said Father Angelo Plodari of Our Lady of Pompeii. The Great Oaks school, which gives priority in its admissions lottery to English Language Learners has reached out to the parish with flyers in multiple languages to encourage families to apply and has invited a member of the Our Lady of Pompeii community to join its board of trustees to solidify the partnership between the two organizations.

The lease was negotiated with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York and the church of Our Lady of Pompeii by the Great Oaks Foundation, the non-profit organization that supports the school. Lease negotiations for Great Oaks were led by David Drewes, who is a partner at Willkie, Farr & Gallagher and the co-chair of its real estate practice. “We’re thrilled to have helped Great Oaks New York achieve this important milestone,” said Drewes. “This lease will provide ample space for the dedicated Great Oaks team to grow their platform and further the mission of providing a top-notch educational experience.” Willkie has provided pro bono legal support to Great Oaks since the school opened its doors over 10 years ago;
negotiations on this lease stretched over the better part of two years as COVID roiled the real estate market.

The school facility is a 6-story building with a gym, something that Great Oaks has lacked since it was chartered by the New York State Department of Education in 2012. Great Oaks will invest more than $5m in improvements to the building over the course of the next year, with financing provided by BlueHub Capital, a non-profit community development financing organization based in Boston. “We are excited to continue our support of the Great Oaks public charter school model,” said Mike Nilles, Interim President of BlueHub’s Loan Fund. “This investment follows previous investments we made to support the Great Oaks school in Bridgeport, CT and we know Great Oaks will continue to provide quality learning opportunities and be a catalyst for building community.” Earlier this summer Great Oaks completely repaid that loan, which financed tenant improvements to what was a factory building in Bridgeport’s West End and is now a school for 600+ students and apartments for 30 AmeriCorps members.

The Bleecker Street site is strategically located just a few blocks from the campus of New York University, which has been a long-time partner to Great Oaks and its teacher residency program. “As a former teacher, the thing that always excited me about this school” said attorney Susan Akselrad, the Chair of the Great Oaks Board of Trustees, “is the way it functions like a teaching clinic, where every day our tutors are learning real-world lessons on how to become effective classroom teachers.” This year 13 of the 40 AmeriCorps tutors at Great Oaks NYC are enrolled in the Teacher Residency program affiliated with NYU’s Steinhardt School of Education. Those Teacher Residents will earn a Master’s degree by June.

The renovations to the building will be designed and constructed in partnership with Civic Builders acting as owner’s representative; design and architectural services will be provided by Gran Kriegel Architects and Planners. Principal David Kriegel, a veteran of school design in New York City, said of the project: “We’ve been working with the Great Oaks team for over a decade providing feasibility studies for various locations – we know them well and understand the planning requirements of their specialized teaching model. One of Gran Kriegel’s principal areas of focus is educational facilities, and we are going to design them a really terrific project. Our efforts will focus on modifying the existing layout to match the needs of small group tutoring, refurbishment of finishes and upgrades to life safety systems, all with an emphasis on sustainability and reducing energy consumption.”

In this new location Great Oaks is likely to draw students from all over Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens given its closeness to the 1/2/3, A/C/E, B/D/F, 4/5/6 as well as the N/Q/R and L subway lines. When it grows to its full size, Great Oaks NYC will enroll 450 students in grades 6-12 in the Fall 2025; it currently has 350 students in grades 6 through 10.

GO Foundation President Michael Duffy reflected on the many people who made this initiative possible, “We are grateful to Maureen Sherry, a former member of the GO Foundation board for connecting the Great Oaks school with the Catholic Archdiocese of New York to begin lease negotiations two years ago,” Duffy said. “Thanks also to former board member Jess Muse and the Muse Family Foundation for their generous support of this new school facility as well as board member and real estate executive Anand Bhatia, who leads the school board’s Facilities Committee.”

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