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BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Despite a commitment early last year by the city to buy 75 Morton St. for use as a new public school, anxiety among local advocates had been steadily rising when after, more than a year later, the building’s ownership still hadn’t been transferred from the state to the city.
Worries began to set in that the shining dream of a new school would turn into nothing more than a sad mirage.
But the nervous waiting finally came to an end last week, when, on Fri., July 26, local elected officials announced that a purchase agreement between the state and city finally had been signed, paving the way for the building’s future use as a public school. An ambitious opening date has been set for fall 2015.
‘I never thought it would take so long.’
— Assemblymember Glick
The city’s plan to purchase the building for use as a school was announced in March 2012 as part of the approval for the Rudin company’s residential redevelopment project at the former St. Vincent’s Hospital site. As City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who brokered the deal, said at the time, a new school was one of the “gets” that was needed for the community.
In a joint press release last Friday, Quinn, Assemblymember Deborah Glick, State Sen. Brad Hoylman, Borough President Scott Stringer and Congressmember Jerrold Nadler and advocates hailed the development as a major victory for neighborhood schoolchildren and parents.
The city’s Department of Education will now begin the public review process that the city must complete in order to site a new city facility.
The city’s School Construction Authority and New York State reached the agreement over the future of the seven-story commercially zoned West Village building on Morton St., which is now on track to become a new school, delivering much needed additional educational capacity. In terms of the specific type of school use, community discussions have focused on the building being converted into a middle school, with a 600-student total capacity.
The announcement comes more than four years after residents and elected officials spearheaded a campaign for creating a new public school in the West Village. The campaign was a result of growing concerns regarding overcrowding and space limitations in many of Lower Manhattan’s schools.
The city has come to terms on the $40 million purchase for the Morton St. property, which is currently occupied by the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities. The building has roughly 177,000 square feet of space, including an auditorium, and has access to elevators.
“Each and every child in New York City should be poised to receive an invigorating and rewarding educational experience as they grow,” Quinn said in a statement. “With the purchase agreement signed and site selection moving forward, we are taking much-needed steps to reducing overcrowding and bringing much-needed educational capacity to the Village.”
As a middle school, the building is likely to enroll students throughout District 2, including neighborhoods like Tribeca and Battery Park City, which have had severe elementary school overcrowding.
“I am thrilled that we are one step closer to having a school at 75 Morton St.,” Glick said in a statement. “This contract is a sure sign of the finalization of the state sale, and city purchase, of the building. When I first identified this excess state building as a potential school, I never thought it would take so long [to transfer ownership to the city].
“I have vivid memories of the past five years,” Keen Berger, 75 Morton Task Force chairperson, said in a statement. “It began with parents spotting sites for desperately needed ‘rooms to learn.’ Then Assemblymember Glick spied a ‘for sale’ list — the state had put 75 Morton up for sale. Then years of rallies, many community groups, hundreds of parents, all our local leaders standing united. We all chanted, ‘Just imagine,’ louder and louder as the years rolled by. Our old vision is not just shimmering; it is real, with a new vision — hundreds of public school children streaming into 75 Morton.”
“Not only did the community finally get 75 Morton, we also got all our elected representatives to agree that 75 Morton will be a zoned public middle school — not a charter, and certainly not a private school,” Berger added in an email. “A small — about 60 students — school for children who need self-contained classes, probably autistic children, will be in the building too, with their own teachers, principal and a separate entrance. This is a great victory.”
Berger noted the school building needs to contain all the right things to allow students to excel.
“We are not finished,” she stressed. “We need science labs and art studios, a large gym and cafeteria, an advanced library and language program, a health clinic and community space. We must find a strong leader and gifted, dedicated teachers. The school should open in fall 2015, far sooner than the usual schedule. Impossible? They said that about buying 75 Morton.”
“This is such wonderful news, but we know that there is still a lot of work to be done,” Shino Tanikawa, president of Community Education Council District 2, said in a statement. “We want to ensure that 75 Morton becomes all that parents, administrators and community members have envisioned — and, especially, that it happens in the timeliest manner possible.”