Photo: Sunny Nagpaul. Gilliana, Mila and Aria Polanco play piano in one of DREAM Charter School’s speciality classrooms.

Hundreds of DREAM families and neighborhood residents celebrated with excitement and optimism the opening of its new 188,000 square-foot charter school that will serve 1,400 pre-K to 12th grade students starting next year. 

The new building at 20 Bruckner Blvd. was open for the first time to the public and tours of the new facility were offered by DREAM staff. It replaces the long-vacant Rupper Ice House, which also served as the second highest billboard platform in the city for property owners Jorge Madruga of MADDD Equities and his partner Drew Katz.

The renovations include large classrooms with tall windows that offer picturesque views of the neighborhood’s new condominium glass high rises. A skylight constructed with layers of windows on the upper floors provides a view of the sky and allows sunshine to pour in.

Still, the old and large red bricks of the previous ice house are visible along top of some walls in the hallways and classrooms, a decision Managing Director of High School Jared Francis said is a tribute to the site’s history and metamorphosis.

The new building was designed by architect Sir David Adjaye, acclaimed for his design of the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History and Culture. He was knighted by the late Queen Elizabeth for his services in architecture in 2017.

The second and third floors have a series of large window panels that bring a lot of natural light into the new building. On the upper floors is the library, called “Hall of Dreams,” and a 6,670 square-foot gymnasium with basketball courts and seating.

Stephany Polanco, a mother of three, two of whom are enrolled in the DREAM charter school on Wales Avenue, said she is enrolling her youngest daughter Aria in the new school this fall. “I really like their values. Their whole child approach promotes social and emotional intelligence.’’

Polanco said DREAM charter school’s priorities align with her own education philosophy.

“They value how I am raising my child and the values I have. I feel like they do a lot of work where they empathize with the children,’’ she said, adding that school administrators are active in the community. “They gave vouchers to the parents to get Halloween costumes,’’ she said.

Bobby Friday, whose 6-year-old daughter attends the DREAM charter school in East Harlem, said he, too, is impressed with the involvement of the school staff in his daughter’s education.

“Last year, she was kind of afraid of math,’’ said Friday. “But now this year she’s very confident. She comes home and tells me about the problems and things of that nature,” he said. “They’re very interactive with the parents and it’s just a good environment.”

Saturday’s block party, held between Alexander and Lincoln Avenues, was hosted in partnership with Brookfield Properties, Lincoln Hospital and local businesses. Organizers offered tours of the new school, while local food vendors sold tofu and black bean vegan dishes and Latin-infused ice cream. Families listened to live music, while kids played games of corn hole and jumbo Connect Four in a designated play area.

DREAM is a network of seven charter schools across East Harlem and The Bronx. During the 2020-2021 school year, 97.7% of its students were ethnic minorities; 89% lived below the poverty line, and 28% of students identified as special needs, according to the DREAM website.

This year there are 94 charter schools open in the Bronx, a number greater than any other borough compared to 90 charter schools in Brooklyn, 56 in Manhattan and 27 in Queens. There are 365 public schools in the Bronx. Three additional charter schools are set to open this year in the Bronx, including Family Life Charter High School in Mount Eden and two schools under the Success Academy Charter School Umbrella in Mott Haven.

Cheryl Taylor, the mother of the new DREAM charter principal Brandon Taylor, said she thinks the Bronx should have more public schools and more schools in general.

“I graduated with 1,700 students,’’ she said. “We had to do split sessions because there were so many students,” remembers Taylor of her school days at Jamaica High School in Queens. “Go outside New York, when they build houses they build schools. New York doesn’t do that and they need to.”

Construction of the new school will also be remembered where three workers were killed when doing demolition work in less than three years. None of the deceased victims had union representation at the site.

Kenneth McPartlan, a worker at Hudson Smokehouse BBQ just around the corner, said he remembers the fatalities. “The elevator just fell through the shaft,” he recalled, remembering the other fatalities at the school construction site. 

His coworker Barbara Barry, whose husband is a construction worker and who has previously worked in construction herself, said union workers and standards are essential for safe working conditions.

Community members are remembering the tragedies of the site while moving forward with its new role as a completed and modern school. Newly appointmented literature teacher Katie Jones, who will teach high school seniors, said she wonders how it will affect the students. “I know some of the kids are saying, it’s gonna be haunted,” she said. “It’s really unfortunate and tragic for sure.”    

The new DREAM charter school is currently accepting applications. The first session will be for high school students and begins in January 2023. The other grade school students will begin Fall 2023.

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