Wildcat Academy banks on BankNote

JVL Wildcat Academy, a celebrated charter for high school dropouts, recently inked a deal to stay at the BankNote complex in Hunts Point for another 12 years. Photo by Victor Chu

Twelve more years. John V. Lindsay Wildcat Academy opened at the BankNote in 1997. The second-chance charter for high school dropouts recently inked a deal with BankNote developer Taconic Investment. JVL will remain at the Hunts Point landmark until 2022.

“The BankNote is bright and airy,” JVL CEO Ron Tabano said. “It’s a great space for the school.”

JVL was one of the first tenants at the BankNote, a 400,000 square foot complex between Lafayette and Garrison avenues. For 80 years, the fortress-like complex printed foreign currency and stamps. In 1985 the American BankNote Company moved upstate and textile firm took over. When JVL arrived, the complex still looked and felt like a factory – exposed wires and textile debris.

“It was raw,” Tabano said.

Taconic and Denham Wolf Real Estate acquired the BankNote in 2008 for $32 million and are currently renovating the complex to the tune of $25 million. It boasts new windows, a new Lafayette Avenue lobby, a new elevator and fresh paint.

JVL occupies floors 4 to 6. The charter’s 275 students – ninth and tenth graders – hail from all over NYC; most live in the Bronx and have missed at least one year of school. According to school statistics, 15-20 percent of JVL students are parents; 20-25 percent have spent time in court.

JVL students attend class from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; 60 percent go on to college. Many participate in the charter’s internship program. Every other week, they leave the BankNote to work at museums, construction sites and nursing homes. JVL students have interned at BRONXNET and the Bronx Zoo. Four years ago, JVL added a culinary institute – a professional-grade, 5,000 square foot kitchen. Taconic and Denham Wolf hope to attract a handful of schools; Taconic partner Doug Winshall called JVL a perfect fit.

“We can easily fit six schools in the BankNote,” he said.

According to Winshall, 15 public and charter schools have expressed interest. Two are close to committing, he said. JVL has no gym, only a weight room. During the day, JVL students use the Hunts Point Recreation Center to exercise.

Principal Mark Donald is happy at the BankNote but would rather Taconic and Denham Wolf land a set of non-profits. More schools equal more students, equal more potential conflicts, Donald said. Current neighbors include Sustainable South Bronx, The Wine Cellarage and The Lightbox-NY. The Living Room, a Citizens Advice Bureau homeless drop-in center, will relocate to 1241 Lafayette Avenue soon.

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