ECS2.jpg (45019 bytes) New York Architecture Images-Brooklyn Bedford-Stuyvesant

Excellence Charter School


James W. Naughton restored with addition, Robert A. M. Stern 2005.


225 Patchen Ave.


late 1880s


Second Empire Baroque   From Napoleon III's Second Empire: a mansarded central block over brick and brownstone: an admiring follower of Lefuel and Visconti's Louvre.


red brick with brownstone trim




  The following images are copyright Robert A. M. Stern architects.
  Before and after.
The formerly abandoned Public School 70 is an important part of the urban fabric of Bedford-Stuyvesant, and for too long, it stood as a dangerous symbol of neglect in the neighborhood it once served. The quality of the restoration of this once-derelict building and the sensitive new addition, along with the return of this historic building to academic use, is truly exemplary.

James W. Naughton’s 1880 gauged red brick and brownstone school building was abandoned in the late 1970s after a major fire. Uncommon Schools, a non-for-profit organization known for developing urban college preparatory charter schools in the northeast chose the site for its academy in Brooklyn – Excellence Charter School – after an exhaustive search.

“The lowest-risk strategy would have been to demolish the charred shell of the building,” said David Saltzman, Executive Director of the Robin Hood Foundation and a trustee of the Excellence Charter School. “It required the extraordinary vision of Robert A.M. Stern Architects to reincarnate this lost treasure as a new charter school.”

Key Participants
Uncommon Schools; Excellence Academies Foundation; Excellence Charter School of Bedford-Stuyvesant; New York City Department of Education; New York City School Construction Authority; Civic Builders; TLM Group; Robert Silman Associates; MGJ Associates, Inc.; Leonard Strandberg Associates; S. DiGiacomo & Son; Robert A.M. Stern Architects; Existing Conditions Surveys; Testwell Laboratories; JAM Consultants; Skyline Consultants; Pillori Associates; Cline Bettridge Bernstein Lighting Design; Fisher Dachs Associates; Shen Milsom & Wilke; Pentagram; Construction Specifications, Inc.

The Excellence Charter School-originally Public School 70-was erected when Brooklyn was still a separate city with an independent education system. All the school buildings built in Brooklyn in the twenty years prior to incorporation with New York City were designed by James W. Naughton, superintendent of buildings for the Board of Education from 1879-98. The school was built in the French Second Empire style, adopted in America when the building market in New York began to recover from the economic effects of the Civil War. Pavilions, which, emphasize verticality on the facade, and mansard roofs, which elaborate the pavilions, were characteristic of the style.

The symmetrical, three-story brick structure with stone trim has a round-arched entrance at the base of an elaborately embellished central tower. Recessed three-window sections connect the tower to the end pavilions, which are topped by pediments with raking cornices. Stone bands at sill and impost level, brick and stone quoins, grooved piers, and stone and brick window lintels further decorate the building, which is crowned by a high mansard roof that is sadly missing its original iron crestings.

This building has an exact twin in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. (The Beth Jacob School)

The Robin Hood Foundation's new Excellence Charter School in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn restores and adds to James W. Naughton's 1880 gauged red brick and brownstone Public School 70, reviving a significant neighborhood institution. Abandoned in 1990 after a major fire, the building was exposed to the elements for approximately thirteen years. The design retains and restores the building's symmetrical pavilionated Patchen Street facade and portions of original facade running east from Patchen Street along Macon and Mac Donough Streets and the original classrooms behind them and a new wing was built to the east. The brick facades have been repointed and cleaned; brownstone trim and lintels have been patched with "Cathedral Stone" in-situ patching or replaced entirely where structurally required using cast stone to match the existing stonework. New aluminum windows were installed to match the proportions, mullion divisions, muntins, and brick mould profiles of the originals. An existing heavily damaged wrought-iron fence separating the facade from the adjacent sidewalks was replaced with a welded steel fence custom-designed to recall the original. The existing roof structure was replaced with a new mansard structure which matches the original and serves as a screen for up-to-date rooftop mechanical equipment. The existing rolled asphalt roof was replaced with Certainteed Grand Manor "Shangle" asphalt shingles to give the appearance of slate (slate roofing exceeded the budget). The new addition at the back of the building uses a similar palette of materials but is rendered in a more stylistically neutral way to give top billing to the historic school building.

Program elements essential to today's schools that were added to the existing school include eleven additional classrooms, a music classroom, a dance and fitness classroom, an art room, a science lab, a traditional library, shared office space for teachers on each floor, an ample cafeteria, a high school-sized gymnasium, and an auditorium to seat the entire school. An open-air rooftop playground was added atop these large program rooms.

The building's interior is restrained with wide corridors appointed with lasting durable materials – doors of golden oak; linoleum floors; walls with a datum of warm white brick-shaped ceramic tile topped by a continuous band of tack wall for student work, and crowned by a running graphic text band with inspirational quotations about education.

The historic classrooms are the highlight of the school and set the tone for the new classrooms, preserving the existing high ceilings and tall windows by carefully packing up-to-date mechanical infrastructure into corridor ceilings. Exposed sprinkler piping and suspended fluorescent strip fixtures set a modern loft-like tone softened by subtle checkerboard carpet-tile and low wood bookshelves that line the window walls concealing heating equipment.

Classroom space extends into and enlivens corridors at each floor where book-nooks, where comfortable carpeted reading areas illuminated by sky-lit and windowed light-wells and cozy oversized lampshade fixtures created by converting the old building's non-code-compliant stairwells.

A "club-like" library carved out of internal space is lined with built-in golden oak bookshelves and lit by borrowed natural light and a matrix of classic oversized shaded fixtures, providing a poised and scholarly gathering place for the school.

Content © 2008 Robert A.M. Stern Architects LLP. All Rights Reserved.

'Every Second Counts' at This School

BY JULIA LEVY - Staff Reporter of the Sun
September 7, 2004

A yellow school bus pulls up to the Excellence Charter School of Bedford-Stuyvesant at 7:22 a.m., and a long line of little boys dressed in navy blue slacks, white shirts, and navy blue ties jump to the curb.

Standing curbside is Jabali Sawicki, the new principal of New York City 's first all-boys charter school, who firmly shakes each tiny hand.

Once inside, Mr. Sawicki doesn't disappear into his office, which looks across the East River to the Manhattan skyline.

He looks on as the children do their "bright work" - quick projects that start their days - and eat breakfast.

He leads "morning meeting," greeting the school's 88 kindergartners and first-graders with a booming "Good morning, Excellence Charter," as the director of community health and fitness, Karenga Arifu, and a kindergarten teacher, Caleb Miller, beat the djembe drums.

He invites two boys who are having trouble adapting to classroom rules into his office, and watches them color cupcakes in a coloring book.

"Between now and 2020 is a very long road," Mr. Sawicki, 26, said, referring to the year when the first-graders will graduate from college. "We have a long way to go and every second counts."

Mr. Sawicki grew up in San Francisco , in a community much like the neighborhoods where his new students live. His father left his family when he was 2 years old, but his mother, a mail carrier, made sure her son was exposed to positive role models - and that he was given as many educational opportunities as possible.

In seventh grade, she sent him to Stuart Hall for Boys, a single-sex Catholic school in San Francisco . He said leaving his immediate neighborhood was a shock.

"My friends from my neighborhood weren't into education, weren't into working hard," he said, sitting in his new office on Friday morning. "There was definitely a push to be cool, to be tough, to over-emphasize sports, to be the class act as if I was too cool to learn."

He was torn between the expectations of his friends and society and those of his demanding mother.

Sometime in the eighth grade, he said, his mother won out when he realized he had fun at school and that he could put his natural competitiveness toward earning the best grades in literature class. After middle school, he went onto one of San Francisco 's most prestigious high schools, University High School . From there, he went off to Oberlin College .

Mr. Sawicki majored in philosophy and biology and was planning on making a career of biology until a fellowship fell through and one of his mentors sent him an e-mail about a science teacher position at the Roxbury Preparatory Charter School in Boston .

He spent three years there. Like most charter schools, Roxbury was trying to close the much-talked-about achievement gap that separates poor, inner-city, black and Latino children from wealthier white and Asian children.

But even as he and his colleagues were making some ground on closing that gap, Mr. Sawicki noticed that there was another persistent achievement gap that wasn't being talked about and wasn't being closed - between boys and girls. He started thinking of how it could be narrowed.

Mr. Sawicki said he realized that boys in inner-city communities like the one he came from in San Francisco and the one where he worked in Boston grow up surrounded by negative role models. He said, "There is really no focus on scholarship, academics, intellectual achievement, professional success."

As a result, he said, young boys grow up feeling "restricted" about what they can become.

When he got a call from that same mentor about starting an all-boys charter school in New York City , Mr. Sawicki saw it as his chance to help. He signed up for duty.

The community where Excellence opened two weeks ago has some of the same problems as the one he came from. In Bedford-Stuyvesant's Community School District 16, a district where 97% of students are black and Latino, girls consistently outperform their male counterparts.

In the district, 37% of fourth-grade girls passed New York State 's English standardized test versus just 28% of boys. On the state's math test, 57% of girls in the district passed, compared to 47% of boys. The gap widens as the children get older.

He said creating an academics-focused, all-boys school in the neighborhood would "create an environment where the coolest thing young boys can be is smart." He said he hopes to target some of their specific needs to help them beat the achievement gaps and eventually get into college.

At Excellence, the school year is 192 days, 12 days longer than the New York City public school year.

The days themselves are also longer, starting at 7:30 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m. As the first students get older and move into higher grades and the school expands to its full size - kindergarten through eighth grade - the school day will get even longer, with sports tacked onto the end of the day.

In the course of the school day, as it exists now, each child has three hours of literacy instruction, 90 minutes of math, and 45 minutes combined of social studies and science.

There is regular testing to find out what the students have learned and to target problem areas.

He said that since the school is so young, there's no data yet. But he said it's already clear that there is a range of ability. Some students don't know the alphabet while others are reading on a third- or fourth-grade level.

Regardless of data, parents who send their sons to Excellence seem ecstatic that their numbers were picked in the school's lottery, and they're convinced that the school will do wonders for their children. There's a waiting list of 85 boys.

Toi Washington-Simon drives 45 minutes from Queens every morning to bring her son Seven Small, 6, to the school. "It's well worth it," she said. "Charter schools, they're held more accountable for what they produce."

Felisha Krause, who stood beside Ms. Washington-Simon outside the school after dropping off her 6-yearold, Jorden Plaines, added she could tell what her son is learning because she received a breakdown of his day.

"The focus here is definitely math, English, history," she said.

Both said the "energy level" of the principal is also a bonus.

Ms. Krause marveled at how he met Jorden once and remembered his name.

Ms. Washington-Simon said she knows Mr. Sawicki is involved every day because Seven comes home talking about what his principal said and did.

"He is always full of energy," Ms. Krause said. "He brings the focus back to where it needs to be, on education."