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New York K-12 Private Schools Set Spending Records To Add Amenities, Expand

Friends Seminary private school in Gramercy Park, N.Y.

New York's private schools are spending money at a prodigious clip to modernize and expand.

K-12 private and religious schools in the city have started construction and renovation projects worth a total of around $950M since the beginning of 2014, according to a study by Dodge Data & Analytics reported by the Wall Street Journal. During the four-year period between 2004 and 2007, construction and renovation starts totaled about $377M in costs.

Private schools are expanding to accommodate growing waiting lists, adding amenities and services for students and redesigning classrooms to meet changing education trends. While representatives from schools contacted by the WSJ attributed the acceleration in projects to improving student experiences, others see it as an arms race to attract the most affluent New Yorkers' children.

“[Parents] think if you can afford a bigger building it must say something about you as an institution,” author and former private school admissions counselor Amy Poeppel told the WSJ. “Shiny spaces matter to New Yorkers.”

Whether schools are actively courting such students and parents or not, the increase in spending can be attributed to the wealthiest New Yorkers anyway, thanks to their donations and tuitions that make it possible.

“The top 5% of incomes are the primary clientele of independent schools,” George Davison, head of Grace Church School in Manhattan, told the WSJ. “People at the top end have resources that they never had before. They are very generous and share it with us,” he said.

Grace Church School is in the midst of a $15M upgrade to its athletic facilities, including a golf simulator, batting cage and new bleachers. Friends Seminary in Gramercy Park is spending $70M on an expansion that will connect three townhouses adjacent to the school to the main building. The school will also add floors to the townhouses, partly for the addition of a greenhouse and a climbing wall.

Other New York prep schools like Horace Mann, Riverdale Country School, St. Ann's and St. David's are undergoing renovations, but none of them are the biggest education spenders in the city. New York City's public school system will reportedly spend $6B on expansion and another $6B on repairs and upgrades in the five-year period ending in 2019, according to the WSJ.