April 4, 2023 By Michael Dorgan
A Jackson Heights school that is celebrating its centenary year has one more reason to cheer after it secured a $100,000 grant to construct new art and music classrooms, as well as other upgrades.
Garden School, an independent college preparatory school located at 33-16 79th St., received the sizeable grant from the Edward E. Ford Foundation, a Brooklyn-based foundation that seeks to improve education at independent schools throughout the country.
Garden School, which teaches students from nursery school through Grade 12, needed to raise $150,000 on its own behalf before it could unlock the $100,000 grant from the foundation.
The funds are going toward much-needed renovations and upgrades at the school, including retrofitting spaces to build three new art studios and a music classroom in its high school, according to Chris Herman, head of school at Garden School.
Three new classrooms are also being built in its lower school for the visual and performing arts, Herman said.
Meanwhile, the school’s indoor theater is getting refurbished, too. The upgrades will consist of new lighting, new sound equipment and new curtains for the theater, which holds around 300 people at full capacity, Herman said. The theater is located in the school’s gymnasium.
Construction of the projects is already underway and is expected to be completed by September, Herman said.
Herman said that securing the grant from the Edward E. Ford Foundation was quite a feat since the foundation only considers about 20 schools across America each year to award funding to, with only about two-thirds of those applicant schools being successful.
“This grant is a big deal,” said Herman. “They really vet each organization, so it’s all very exciting.”
Herman said the upgrades will provide sophisticated learning spaces and new tools for students studying visual and performing arts.
He said that news of the funding has given students at the school a major boost. Approximately 475 students attend Garden School, he said.
“We have some incredibly talented artists here; we’re adding new arts and music positions for next year so the whole program is growing.”
Herman said the school counts actors James Caan and Adrien Broody as its past students, along with Roger Kimmel who is vice chairman of Rothschild Inc., an investment banking firm. Mitch Slater, who was a concert promoter, was also a former student.
“Garden School is a place where serious artists and musicians come to create, it’s a really special school,” Herman said.
He said the school badly needs the upgrades as some spaces have not been renovated in decades.
It took the school around six months to reach its $150,000 goal, Herman said, thanks to donations largely from alumni and board members.
He said that Judy Turner, a former student who graduated from the school in the 1950s, donated $50,000.
“She is still so passionate about the arts that she gave the donation,” Herman said. “It was pretty amazing. It would have taken us a lot longer if it wasn’t for her.”
Herman said the grant comes at a time when the entire school is undergoing a massive overhaul.
The redevelopments are part of a strategic plan the school adopted in January 2021. The plan, called “Garden’s Road to 100,” is a multi-year project that sets out how the school intends to grow, bring its facilities up to date and become financially sustainable.
Some of the upgrades identified in the plan have already been completed, Herman said. For instance, a new fitness center has been constructed, along with a new science lab and a new student lounge, while the entrance to the school gymnasium has also been remodeled, he said.
All of the windows throughout the school have been replaced too, Herman said, and high school classrooms have been revamped with new lighting and furniture.
“The whole school has gotten a big makeover over the last two years, so while the world was kind of limping through COVID, we were busy renovating,” Herman said. “It’s been an amazing time and very exciting.”