Home Construction The Windward School eyes former March of Dimes HQ for school

The Windward School eyes former March of Dimes HQ for school

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The Windward School – a private school for children with dyslexia and language-based learning disabilities – plans to move its Westchester County lower school to the former March of Dimes headquarters in White Plains.

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The former March of Dimes building on Mamaroneck Avenue in White Plains near Saxon Woods Park. Photo by Ryan Deffenbaugh

City officials are reviewing plans from the White Plains and Manhattan-based school that would have Windward renovate the 113,000-square-foot March of Dimes building to host students in grades one through five. The 3-story building is on an 11 acre property on Mamaroneck Avenue, near the Hutchinson River Parkway.

March of Dimes, the national nonprofit focused on maternal and infant health, placed its White Plains headquarters on the market two years ago, and moved at the end of the year to new corporate offices in Arlington County, Virginia, a Washington, D.C. suburb. The Windward School has a contract to buy the building, but would first need the city to sign off on its plans to convert the property to a school.

John J. Russell, head of school at Windward, said the former March of Dimes location offers an ideal space for the lower school. The school’s current location, on Windward Avenue off West Street in the city, is within a residential neighborhood, he said. It is less than a mile from the former March of Dimes property.

“That has proven to be less than ideal because of the fact that the school has traffic and buses,” Russell said. “We are constrained in our current location, so this opens up much more possibilities. It’s a much larger building and we need more space.”

The larger building allows the school to move its fifth-grade students from its Westchester middle school to the lower school. Windward’s plans include a new 11,000-square-foot gymnasium, as well as athletic fields, but the school would otherwise repurpose the existing building.

The school would host 350 students between the five grades, as well as a staff of about 110. Parking on the property would be shifted around to accommodate the new athletic fields, with a total of 180 spaces. Russell estimated the project would cost between $20 million and $30 million.

Windward needs the city to sign off on special permit and site plan approvals for the renovation and move. Typically, approvals for a school proposal would be handled by the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals. The White Plains Common Council, however, voted to exercise its right to claim jurisdiction over any site plan approval process with “substantial public importance.”

Windward representatives told the planning board in January that the school hopes to be operating from the building in time for school in fall 2020. If approved for the move, Windward would sell its lower school building on Windward Avenue. Russell said the school will not sell the property to another school operator, as part of an agreement with the city.

Windward offers instruction for students grades first through ninth. The school enrolls about 900 students in Westchester and Manhattan. Founded in New Rochelle in 1926, the goal for the nonprofit school, as Windward describes it, is “to develop in its students the skills and motivation necessary to realize their academic potential and function in mainstream settings.”

Windward has operated its lower school on Windward Avenue since 1930, which it expanded in 1994 with a gymnasium and additional classrooms. Windward’s middle school on West Red Oak Lane in Harrison, opened in 2002. The school’s Upper East Side Manhattan campus opened in 2016.

The March of Dimes said last year that its move from White Plains was part of an organizational transformation. The nonprofit reported five straight years of net losses in tax filings, from 2012 through 2016. The organization’s new office is a 28,000-square-foot space in Crystal City, Virginia, not far from where Amazon is locating part of its second headquarters. Arlington County provided a $150,000 economic development incentive grant to March of Dimes, subject to job creation and occupancy targets.

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