Branching Out: Next Steps for Universal Pre-Kindergarten Expansion in NYC Libraries

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s universal pre-kindergarten (UPK) program launched in September 2014 and gave 53,000 children in New York City access to free, full-day UPK. The NYC Department of Education (DOE) has begun planning for the 2015-2016 school year, when it plans to roll out the next wave of seats. To accommodate the additional students, New York City agencies, non-profit and community organizations, and architects must collaborate to create safe spaces that meet communities’ needs.

On 06.12.14, AIANY and the NYC Department of Design + Construction (DDC) hosted a charrette at the Center for Architecture that focused on creating UPK spaces in public branch libraries. Architects and representatives from DDC, DOE, the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, and Queens Public Library (QPL) spent the morning discussing common goals and designing potential classrooms in seven different libraries across five boroughs.

On 10.06.14, stakeholders came together again to continue the conversation. Speakers detailed the findings from the charrette, and reported on the work completed since then, including DDC’s work scouting and preparing classrooms, and how QPL has embraced the challenge. Speakers addressed questions from the charrette, including issues related to outdoor activity and space allocation, and presented suggestions based on work they have done in this area. 

Linda Pollak, AIA, presented with DDC and DOHMH on exterior play spaces and the role of Active Design. Emily Abbruzo, AIA, shared the work she has done with DDC on demountable classroom prototypes that would allow libraries and other community spaces to assemble a pre-k classroom, with adequate storage, surface area, seating, etc., during school hours, and also have the option to disassemble it when not in session. Xanthe Jory, executive director of the DOE Expansion Planning and Field Operations, Division of Early Childhood Education, who has overseen the UPK expansion over the past few months, talked about the next steps for DOE. QPL Interim President and CEO Bridget Quinn-Carey shared reports from the field. QPL was only able to open one pre-k classroom in September, but it is enthusiastic about outfitting more rooms for next year.

Following the presentations, attendees participated in lively discussions about next steps, such as prototyping the process and applying innovative funding sources. UPK in NYC library branches is a viable option, but there are a number of hurtles to overcome before it can be fully realized. Participants continue to uncover ways of linking architects, UPK providers, available facilities, and all of the other essential players in preparation for the next round of RFPs.

Pulse Points

  • Mayor de Blasio appointed Faith Rose, AIA, as Executive Director of the Public Design Commission. Rose is the former Director of Design Excellence at the New York City Department of Design + Construction. Read the press release here.
  • Mayor de Blasio and NYC Department of Parks and Recreation Commissioner Mitchell Silver, FAICP, announced the launch of the Community Parks Initiative (CPI). The first phase of the program will invest in 35 public parks that have fallen into disrepair. NYC Parks is committed to increasing the accessibility, sustainability, and equity of NYC’s parks and implementing improvements to regular service. At the Crain’s Business Breakfast Forum on 10.08.14, Commissioner Silver discussed the impetus behind this initiative and the importance of public and private partners in carrying it out. More information here.
  • The New York City Department of City Planning released Retrofitting Buildings for Flood Risk, a comprehensive guide to retrofitting buildings against future floods. Representatives from the DCP will present the guide at the Center for Architecture on 10.29.14 at 8:30AM. RSVP here.
  • 11.04.14 is around the corner, and the AIA wants to ensure that all architects take part in upcoming elections. The AIA Advocacy Action Center gives members the tools to register to vote, read about legislators’ views, and learn about opportunities to meet with new legislators after the elections.
  • Enterprise Community Partners has developed a new set of Green Communities Criteria, to be released for 2015. A previously recorded webinar and related resources are available here. The webinar details the criteria revision process and discusses how resilience and health are incorporated in the 2015 criteria.
  • In September, New Jersey signed bill A2025 into law. The Good Samaritan legislation will protect licensed architects and engineers who volunteer after disasters from liability. Read a letter by Kurt Kalafsky, AIA, President, AIA New Jersey, in The Times of Trenton.

Emma Pattiz is the AIANY Policy Coordinator. For more information on AIANY policy initiatives and programs, please contact her at