Brooklyn Heights

Packer is packed: Brooklyn Heights private school to expand

June 5, 2019 Lore Croghan
Here’s Packer Collegiate Institute’s planned addition as seen from the campus’s garden. Rendering by PBDW Architects via the Landmarks Preservation Commission

A Brooklyn Heights private school that’s been around since the 1840s received the city’s permission to expand its campus, despite some pushback from residents of the historic district in which it is located.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved Packer Collegiate Institute’s plan to construct a modern terra-cotta-and-glass addition to the school’s Garden House and revamp the landscaping of a big garden in the center of its main campus.

Due to a spike in enrollment, classes are sometimes held in the school’s library and various “nooks and crannies” of the campus, Bruce Dennis, Packer’s soon-to-retire head of school, said during a hearing prior to the commission’s vote.

This picture shows what Packer Collegiate Institute’s garden currently looks like. Photo via the Landmarks Preservation Commission
This picture shows what Packer Collegiate Institute’s garden currently looks like. Photo via the Landmarks Preservation Commission

The co-ed private school, which is located at 170 Joralemon St., has more than 1,000 students, from pre-kindergartners through 12th graders.

PBDW Architects Partner Samuel White said at the hearing that the 12,000-square-foot addition and the 8,000-square-foot Garden House will have a conservatory that will serve as a single big classroom, plus numerous other classrooms and a student center.

According to architectural drawings in White’s presentation, there will be a robotics classroom in the basement.

The Garden House is a 19th-century Greek Revival-style rowhouse.

Commissioner Frederick Bland called White’s design “thoughtful.”

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Residents wanted a smaller version

This is Packer Collegiate Institute’s planned addition as seen from Livingston Street. Rendering by PBDW Architects via the Landmarks Preservation Commission
This is Packer Collegiate Institute’s planned addition as seen from Livingston Street. Rendering by PBDW Architects via the Landmarks Preservation Commission

Packer’s campus is filled with historic buildings, some designed by important architects.

For instance, Minard Lafever, an influential architect in the first half of the 19th century, designed Tudor Gothic-style Founder’s Hall, according to a story in Packer’s alumni magazine.

There was some negative testimony during the hearing, but it didn’t impact the commission’s vote.

A rep for residents at 59 Livingston St., a building adjacent to Packer’s campus, asked that the size of the addition be reduced. It wasn’t.

Judy Stanton of the Brooklyn Heights Association said the design should be “refined” because the addition seems like it’s competing with the Garden House.

A rep from the Professional Archaeologists of New York City said a study should be done to find out whether 19th-century wells, cisterns or privy pits are buried on the site of the Garden House addition. The group uses the acronym PANYC (pronounced like “panic”).

This is a Livingston Street view of Packer Collegiate Institute. Photo via the Landmarks Preservation Commission
This is a Livingston Street view of Packer Collegiate Institute. Photo via the Landmarks Preservation Commission

Plans for revamping Packer’s garden include removing 15 trees and planting 20 more. Commissioners didn’t spend any time discussing the landscaping plan.

Commissioner Anne Holford-Smith was absent from the Packer hearing and vote because she’s a partner at the same firm as project architect White.

Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.

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