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OPPOSITION BUILDS TO DEMOLISHING LOCAL PUBLIC SCHOOLS, BUT SOME SEE BENEFITS

Community opposition is building to city plans that could allow developers to knock down two local schools and build luxury high-rises with new schools in their place. If the city moves ahead, PS 191 on 61st street and PS 199 on 70th street would be demolished as soon as 2015. But numerous community leaders, nearby homeowners and others have begun speaking out.

The plan, which we first wrote about a couple of weeks ago, has progressed to the point that developers have already submitted proposals detailing how they want to redevelop the sites. The city told the developers that they could build luxury housing on the sites without the public review process (called ULURP) that usually accompanies large building projects.

When parents began asking questions, a city official said that the ULURP process will be used (but…Educational Construction Fund Executive Director Jamie Smarr, the official who made those promises, has since stepped down from his position. It’s not clear who will be the new executive director). PS 199 President Eric Shuffler and others are trying to get that ULURP pledge in writing.

The Department of Education has said that if it chooses one of the proposals for either of the schools it will then consult the community about what people want. The department is expected to decide whether it will move ahead with particular proposals by June 2013.  But the remaining questions about the proposal and the fact that it was essentially hidden for months, have left many people unsettled.

Local opposition has taken various forms:

We have also heard some positive comments about the plans, however.

The proposal will be discussed at a Community Board 7 meeting on Tuesday night starting at 6:30 p.m. at Jewish Home Lifecare, 120 West 106th Street (it’s unlikely that city officials will be there; this is just an opportunity for the community board to hear opinions and possibly pass a resolution).

What do you think? And what’s the best way for locals to respond?

Thank you to everyone who has been sending in tips and comments.

NEWS, SCHOOLS | 12 comments | permalink
      • ConcernedParent says:

        The DOE wants us to welcome gigantic luxury high rises on the UWS because it will help to address longstanding overcrowding issues in our schools. However the sample school printed in their RFEI (Request for Expressions of Interest) was marginally bigger than the current 199 layout – with 70% of the gained square footage underground. Before we make the numerous sacrifices that come with yielding public land to private developers – let’s consider the DOE’s track record in new construction projects.

        How is Beekman Hill International School P.S. 59 on the East side doing under the Educational Construction Fund’s newest public land/private development model? The 57 story Frank Gehry residential tower isn’t even finished and the school (which opened in e. 2012) is already overcrowded. In its first year, it has had both kindergarten and first grade waitlisting. The planned pre-k program (published in the directory) was cut before the school opened. The elementary students were displaced for 4 years in a former hospital wing.

        The East Side Middle School M.S. 114 project also involved the private use of public land (opened in May 2010). During the project, 2 construction workers were killed in a crane collapse accident and a nearby building was damaged. Today, the middle school has over 100 seats than it had previously – but the school is already overcrowded. For example, in its first year of operation, the music room was converted into a classroom. In May of 2011 Member of Congresswoman Maloney, Borough President Scott Stringer (along with other state and city-level leaders) collectively wrote a letter to the Chancellor to limit future enrollment to the school.

        The Spruce Street School P.S. 397 was built at the foot of the 76 story Beekman tower in the financial district (private land w/ public school). The city’s plan has been to gradually grow the school to a k-8 with two classes per grade (it is currently a k -3). However, overcrowding downtown has meant that demand fluctuates between 3 to 4 classes of kindergarteners a year. According to a 2011 PTA Petition to limit enrollment, 11 of the 20 classrooms in this 100,000 sq. ft. building were already filled with k-2. The zone now struggles with controversy about whether the k-8 model is sustainable with burgeoning elementary enrollment.

        Battery Park City School P.S. / I.S. 276, is a 125,000 sq. ft. pre-k to 8 school which opened in 2009 and moved to its new eight-story building in 2010 (without a private residential component). This year, the PTA started a petition to limit next year’s kindergarten enrollment to the 3 classes it was designed to hold (instead of the current 5). Parents are trying to preserve the pre-k program and the art, science, and music rooms. Parents of kindergarten students in the 2012/2013 year faced waitlisting.

        The “sample” school proposed by the DOE wouldn’t even come close to addressing the increasing demand – let alone address parental hopes for a new middle school. The proposed school facility isn’t even as big as the 115,000 sq. ft. Sarah Anderson building (84th St. facility shared by P.S. 9 and the Center School – total 872 students) or the 144,000 sq. ft. William O’Shea building (77th St. facility shared by the Anderson, Computer, and 452 – total of 1143 students). The above ground section of the “sample” school proposed for PS 199 (91,700 sq. ft or 9% larger than current) is nearly identical to the size of P.S. 87 (89,996 sq. ft), which tentatively holds only 947 students (a little more than 100 more than P.S. 199).

        Are we going to repeat history (as with P.S. 59) – and displace elementary students for up to 4 years for just over 100 new seats? Why not build another school in a location without a school? If the private/public model must be utilized, then get the developers to flip the bill on private land – that doesn’t have a school.

        What makes these numbers even scarier is that these proposed numbers reflect the upper range of the 105,000 to 110,000 school proposed in the city’s RFEI. Moreover, when you compare the statistics of these older UWS schools with the newly built schools that have already reached their capacity (East Side Middle, Battery Park, and Spruce) it is evident that the square footage per child (at a building’s maximum capacity) is significantly higher in the new schools than in the older schools. This is because the new schools feature more common/open spaces, and less academic classroom space per square foot. The facilities are impressive in their design, but not in their size.

        For example, note that the 105,000 – 110,000 sq ft size proposed in the city’s RFEI for P.S. 199 is similar to the size of the Spruce Street School (with 20 academic classrooms) and it is smaller than the 125,000 sq. ft Battery Park City School (designed for 3 classes per grade – or about 30 classrooms). Yet P.S. 199’s current enrollment is 6 classes per year. If we eventually had six classes in six grades – it would necessitate 36 classrooms. This doesn’t even consider that P.S. 199 has waitlisting at these current Kindergarten enrollment numbers.

        If this project is to move forward, the school community will need to demand that the interests in this project shift from the private to the public domain. Is the city building schools for the Upper West Side’s future, or is this proposed school an amenity to sell real estate?

    1. Batya Lewton says:

      I thank the Westsiderag.com for its excellent coverage of this issue.

      The bottom line is simple – leave the schools alone. Stop the Bloomberg give-a-way to developers.
      Batya

    2. Bonnie says:

      Don’t like what your elected officials are doing? DON’T VOTE FOR THEM NEXT ELECTION!!!!!!
      Check out what Ben Stein had to say about our elected Federal Government on, “Sunday Morning” TV show, March 3rd.

    3. clarence says:

      #2 – We need schools. The WSJ last week showed 56% growth in the last 10 years in the number of children in the 199/191/87 portion of the district. Where should the new schools go? This is the only idea I’ve heard as to where to build more school space a new school as long as the temporary issues of school relocation can be handled.

    4. Steven Barall says:

      Developers build buildings to make money. That’s it, no other reason. They are not in the education business and they don’t care about your kid’s school. They will build the bare minimum required and then guess what? The tax payers will have to shell out millions to finish the thing like buy the fancy new designer furniture to match the fancy new building and so forth. The tax payers pay in the end. Always.

    5. K Bochan says:

      I suppose the people in the area realize that this development will likely have 100 or more children that will attend the “new” ps199, displacing their children. Unless the new school will have more space. It certainly will have lass playground space and less light for the people who live near the new giant building.
      It is scandalous that the community has not been consulted. Have any of the developers tried to park in the neighborhood, or exit up the subway stairs!
      Have they stood in long lines at the supermarkets?

    6. LJWNYC says:

      I am new to all of this – aside from a meeting at 106th street at 6:30 on a work night there must be another way to get involved here.

      WHO can I call/email about this?? Please any advice would be great.

      What a nightmare…

      • West Sider says:

        This is Gale Brewer’s office number: (212) 873-0282. West Side Rag will keep covering opposition efforts to see when meetings come up. Avi

    7. clarence says:

      the temporary school was previously a nurse’s residence. the building was gutted, a gym added and the building recieved rave reviews in the design press. It is now a new middle school for D2.

      Where is our new D3 middle school? This is about children. Please tell me the answer to that question.

    8. Carlos Molina says:

      The good news is that Bloomberg will be out soon and it is imperative that we get all the mayorial candidates’ positions on this and ask what they will do if elected. We have to stall and fight as best we can until november.

      The bad news is that Bloomberh will be out soon and he is working deligently to ram all that he wants down our throats without due process of which this issus is one of many.

    9. Paul Brook says:

      The demolition of the building is a grave problem for residents living near PS 199. A lot of people stand in opposition to the proposal so I think the proposal should be dropped.

      Schools in Battery Park City