P.S. 19 Marino P. Jeantet School in Corona, Queens, had been overcrowded for decades when Murphy Burnham & Buttrick Architects (MBB) won a School Construction Authority con”tract in 2017 to double the square footage of the historic 1923 structure.
By September of 2018, the fast-tracked project was complete. Rather than try to expand the foot”print of the existing Collegiate Gothic-style build”ing, MBB designed an efficient and complementary structural steel addition, joining the two structures with a shared core. (In 2019, the architects mod”ernized classrooms and upgraded systems in the 1923 building.) “You try to build as economically and quickly as possible and steel enabled us to do that,” says Jeff Murphy, a founding partner of MBB. “Instead of having an extensive basement, we chose to do a small basement for some of the mechani”cals, but by and large we built this slab on grade. It was really just steel going into footings on most of the building.”
The new five-story, 97,000-square-foot addition contains classrooms, cafeterias, a gymnasium, and instructional and health space, helping to disperse the school’s 2,000 students and serving as an im”portant community hub and social services provider. “One of the things that was pretty compelling about the project is that this part of Queens is in dire need of school seats,” says Murphy. The elementary school was one of the worst and most visible victims of overcrowding—a result of the closure, demolition, and consolidation in the 1970s of nearly 100 public schools in New York City as the population dropped and the city’s finances tanked. When enrollment began to climb again in the 1990s, the school con”struction budget couldn’t keep up. When Murphy’s team began its design process, P.S. 19 had been using dilapidated 20-year-old classroom trailers located on the former playground to accommodate the diverse student body.
In order to speed up construction of the new building, MBB chose a precast panelized facade clad in brick. Canted windows appear to match the scale and fenestration pattern of the 1923 building with the addition of exaggerated precast concrete frames. One of the biggest challenges of the project, according to Geoff Smith, an associate with structural engineer Silman, was the connection of the precast facade panels to the structure—the engineers had planned for them to hang column to column, bracing back to the slabs. But due to a mix-up with the manufacturer, the panels had to be braced back to the steel structure. “So the steel had to be reanalyzed for torsional [stress],” says Smith. In addition, the structure had to be oversized to sup”port the weight of the panels’ brick cladding.
But perhaps the most challenging constraint was the fact that the north elevation of the new building is adjacent to the elevated, rumbling 7 subway line along Roosevelt Avenue. This made erecting the steel structure a laborious process, says Murphy, requiring flagmen provided by MTA and specialized staging. “They had to have [steel members] on the street, ready to go up, but in between when trains were running,” he adds. A robust acoustical treat”ment of northern elevation included a baffle wall and STC-rated windows, allowing students to see, but not hear, the passing trains. Murphy and his team then placed the most active programs to the north, such as the cafeterias, stairs, and open-air play roof. “One of the things that the teachers and staff were so delighted with is that we were able to make the noise go away,” says Murphy.
The cafeteria in the old school building was cramped and poorly planned, so part of the brief for P.S. 19’s addition was two generous, column-free dining rooms. The architects placed these on the ground floor, adding a band of glazing that creates a friendlier and storefront-like interface with the busy neighborhood. A playground on the roof of the northernmost cafeteria has a steel frame enclosed with steel mesh. This area required the design team to perform vibration analysis because it cantilevers from the building below.
Three oversized steel stairs—on either end of the new building as well as in its center—were another major design element, helping to choreograph the 2,000 students through three lunch periods. “We ended up having to make the connection to the new building through a stair in the old building,” says Murphy. “That switchover had to be done in a weekend. The new stair in the new building could be used right away as we decommissioned the stair in the old building.”
Murphy’s team brought warmth and cheer to the addition with pops of color for orientation, wood ceilings in the lobby and corridors, and wood-clad seating niches in hallways for studying and social”izing. A bright mosaic mural in the lobby depicts nearby Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the site of the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs.
Together, the two buildings feel like a cohesive whole, and give students, teachers, and staff the space they need and deserve after decades of neglect. The massing, scale, and materiality of the addition are a pleasing foil for the 1923 school build”ing. “We showed deference to the old building, but we tried to make the new building express today’s values and technology,” says Murphy.