Preschool forsakes FiDi due to Sandy damage

BY KAILTLYN MEADE  |  Superstorm Sandy’s damage caused more than one headache to building owners and operators Downtown, and recently, caused a private preschool program to rethink its decision to open an outpost in Lower Manhattan’s Financial District. Instead, they are moving into the landmarked Archive building in Greenwich Village.

A little more than 2 years ago, the Mandell School, which hosts pre-K through 8th grade between its two Uptown locations, scoured the Financial District and Tribeca for a new location to bring their “creative, hands-on” teaching methods to pre-K students in Lower Manhattan. They had chosen 30 Broad St., at Exchange Place as their site and had already opened it for applications when Hurricane Sandy struck.

“It rocked us back a bit,” said Gabriella Rowe, the head of Mandell School. The building’s electrical damage put the plans on hold. “That made us think about our construction approach and what it would take to build Downtown.”

In the meantime, she received a call from The Archive, a historic building located at 666 Greenwich St., between Barrow and Christopher Sts. The space was already in use and there was “very little turnaround time” to get the location ready for the school. Though still a “strong believer” in the Financial District as a future location, it was “not the right time,” Rowe said, to tackle the construction puzzle that the FiDi location would have presented.

The school has already received about 170 Downtown applications. Immediately after the disaster, some Downtown parents contacted Mandell to ask that their applications be switched to the locations in Lincoln Square and the Upper East Side because they were unable or unwilling to return to their buildings.

But when parents were offered refunds after the location was moved, Rowe noted that very few did so.

It may speak to the need for more Downtown school seats that parents do not mind travelling further for pre-K classrooms, though Rowe said that the travel time from Battery Park City to the Greenwich or FiDi locations is “logistically the same.”

There is a well documented shortage of school seats across all of Downtown, something that Community Board 1 has been campaigning to rectify for years. “It’s a loss that they would not consider another location Downtown,” said Catherine McVay Hughes, chairperson of C.B. 1.

Paul Hovitz, co-chairperson of C.B. 1’s Youth and Education Committee, said that it was a loss for those who could afford it (annual tuition for Mandell’s pre-K program ranges from $12,000-$22,000), but that there is a need for public pre-K seats that must be addressed.

“It becomes particularly dire when the Department of Education considers eliminating pre-K in the area because of needs for kindergarten seats,” he said.

Rowe agreed that, “The closer a family has a preschool to their front door, the better.” But for those willing to travel, the Mandell School at Greenwich St. is scheduled to be up and running for the 2013-2014 school year.

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